Anglican delegation moved by visit to Burundi

Published February 23, 2009

Villagers at Bitare, about 50 kms. from the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, welcome Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, during a visit Feb. 12 to 15.

Bujumbura, Burundi
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, expressed the support and solidarity of Canadian Anglicans for the people of Burundi as they continue the difficult task of rebuilding their nation still plagued by more than a decade of ethnic-based civil war.

Archbishop Hiltz, who visited this east African nation of 8.9 million people Feb. 12 to 15, also paid tribute to the Anglican Church of Burundi and, in particular, the diocese of Bujumbura “for helping transform the lives of Burundians,” a majority of whom are the world’s poorest of the poor.

The primate, along with a delegation of staff and youth representatives from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), toured various church projects, some of them PWRDF-funded, that address maternal and child health, HIV-AIDS, poverty alleviation, violence against women, peace-building, food security and nutrition.

“This week, we Canadians have seen the servant church at work in the diocese of Bujumbura…We’ve seen piles and piles of brick. At the Mother’s Union – which helps the sick, single mothers, elderly and widows – we heard plans to build more facilities and programs,” he said in a Sunday eucharist at the yet-unfinished Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. “At the HIV clinic we see an ecumenical vision of working with young people.”

The delegation also visited two “up country” parishes – Bitare, about 50 kms away from the capital Bujumbura, where a PWRDF and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) clinic is in its early stages of operation and development, and Rumonge (66 kms from Bujumbura) where the primate helped lay the foundation stones for a new health centre for that community. Both communities are more than 10 kilometres away from government clinics already bursting to capacity as more and more Burundians who fled during the war that escalated in 1994 have returned home as refugees from neighbouring Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania.

At the Anglican-run Universite Lumiere de Bujumbura (University of Light) “we heard plans to expand programs for young people, to be leaders of a nation on the path to irreversible peace for all time,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “My sense is that graduates from that university will contribute in their own way to the laying of bricks for the future of your country.” The University of Light, which is a private university, helps educate 2,000 Burundians, a tiny fraction of the less than two per cent of Burundians with access to post-secondary education.

Archbishop Hiltz, who visited the continent of Africa for the first time, said, “We’ve been so moved by the faith of the communities we’ve met. One of the things that moved us was that every single one of them say ‘this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our sight.'”

Many lessons were gathered from the visit, he added. “In the church, we place emphasis on how we gather, but we also need to think of how we go out into the world,” he said. “In your church, we’ve seen so much joy. You truly worship God with body, mind, and spirit. And in your going out as a church we’ve seen great dedication and complete trust in the Lord that his hand is at work in yours.”
At every site they visited, the delegation was met with rapturous song and dance, and in one instance, jubilant traditional drumming by a youth troupe – orphans and/or former child soldiers rescued from the streets by a church-run project in the slums of Citiboke. Drums signify pride and dignity in Burundi, and the thunderous sounds made by the young drummers, wearing the nation’s flag colours of red (love of country), green (hope) and white (peace) drove home that point.

At the Conseil National des Igles de Burundi’s women, family and HIV-AIDS centre, where the Anglican Church of Canada is among ecumenical groups lending support, HIV-positive women displayed baskets of yams, onions, potatoes, peppers – examples of food they sell in the market, thanks to the income derived from the sale of AIDS pins, necklaces and doilies worldwide.

PWRDF’s Partnership for Life Campaign, A Generation without AIDS, sold 1,000 of those pins for $1 in Canada in 2006. Zaida Bastos, PWRDF Africa program co-ordinator, who brought the project to life in partnership with the centre’s director, Perpetue Kankindi, and who was part of the visiting delegation, said it had been “a joy” to see the women looking much healthier than they had been the last time she saw them.

In his sermon at the cathedral, Archbishop Hiltz held up a brick that he said “represents a growing church, a deep passion, a vision for serving God’s people of caring for those in most urgent of needs,” Archbishop Hiltz pledged the Canadian Anglican church’s commitment “to pray and to continue working in partnership” with the diocese of Bujumbura. “This brick represent a people at prayer for the nation. The church is doing its part with the support of partners in the world in rebuilding Burundi after so many years of conflict. It is a partnership that is committed to working together in joy and in struggle, and it is at the heart of PWRDF’s work.”

He also offered the delegation’s host, Pie Ntukamazina, the bishop of Bujumbura, a promissory note for $1,000 “in support of ministries that are touching the lives of so many men, women and children.”

In response, Bishop Ntukamazina, said, “The primate has a loving heart. This is the first time that someone arrived with a large delegation. I know you’ll hold Burundi in your heart and would be willing to return.”

At every stop, Archbishop Hiltz took the opportunity to inform Burundians about PWRDF’s 50th anniversary celebration this year.

Cheryl Curtis, PWRDF executive director, who was also with the delegation, pledged that PWRDF “will continue to work in partnership with you and walk with you.” She added, “We pray for peace in your hearts and in your land.”

Speaking before parishioners at Bitage who had lined up the streets in greeting and who decorated their church in scraps of colourful cloth and Christmas glitter in honour of the delegation, a youth member of the delegation, Heather Pearson, said, “We thank you for inspiring us with your faith and your love. We intend to tell your stories when we go back to Canada. I’m glad to see so many young people. I encourage the youth to believe in the power that you have to build your society.”

Other members of the delegation included Simon Chambers, PWRDF facilitator, and two other members of the PWRDF youth council – Maureen Bailey and Evan Ridderham. The youth members stayed behind for another week in Burundi to spend more time connecting with Burundian Anglicans.

The visit marks the second time that a primate of the Anglican Church of Canada has extended a hand in solidarity to the Anglican Church of Burundi and the people of Burundi. In the early 1990s, Archbishop Michael Peers, then the primate, also visited this tiny French- and Kirundi-speaking nation.

In 1994, while most of the world was riveted by the genocide in Rwanda, Burundi became the scene of one of Africa’s most violent and intractable conflicts between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. More than 300,000 Burundians were killed and hundreds of thousands others were internally displaced or became refugees in neighbouring countries.

After years of talks mediated by South Africa, rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire and a coalition government was set up in 2001. In 2005, Burundians had their first parliamentary elections since the civil war and the main Hutu rebel group won the majority and nominated its leader Pierre Nkurunziza as president.

However, peace remains fragile in Burundi, as the government struggles under a heavy burden to address grinding poverty, responding to the needs of refugees and displaced people, disarming thousands of former rebels and soldiers (including child soldiers), democratizing institutions, and managing the huge expectations of a nation tired of violence. Another election is scheduled for 2010.

(For more news/feature stories and photographs about the Anglican Church of Canada delegation’s visit to Burundi, please visit the Anglican Journal Web site, and/or get upcoming issues of the Journal.)


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