When a child is born into the world, everybody leans affectionately over it with an abundance of love and care and wants to know everything about it. We feel that our brothers from Greece care the same way about the relatively early steps taken by the Orthodox Church in Rwanda and Burundi. For this reason, we would like to make you partakers of the rich blessings of His grace which we have experienced lately, mainly through our participation in the sacraments of our Church. Thanks to the prayers and the actual assistance from Greece, we had the opportunity to live a particularly blessed summer with not only a large number of newly illumined Christians but also with the presence of fellow travellers all along the way. We started with the well-known doctor Mr. Antonis Liaskos, who undertook the task of catechism at Kazimpa in Rwanda, where people have demonstrated a strong thirst for Orthodoxy; that is why for a long time they were asking us most insistently to teach them our faith. Later a blessed group of young people from St Dimitris Loubardiaris parish arrived here, accompanied by Fr. Michael. Immediately after that we welcomed Mrs. Georgia Hatzivei, President of the NGO “Anthropoi Agapis” (People of Love), who was visiting Burundi for the fourth time, offering great help and unfailing love. At the same time, we welcomed the first volunteers of the “Contribution to Educating Africa’s Children” society, who have developed educational activities in Metropolises as Madagascar and Uganda.
Initially our guests met with the community of catechumens in Kazimba and marveled at the fact that impoverished people had already organized themselves into groups focusing on the Orthodox faith and aiming to develop activities in order to support their families and their future Orthodox Church. All this takes place in a quite big hut, but we want to believe that with God’s help this hut will be replaced by the first Orthodox sacred church in Rwanda, which will cost around 100,000 euros. Still, these people, who are characterized by an unprecedented zeal for our faith, wish to have the first Orthodox Kindergarten in Rwanda, which will embrace all the orphans and poor children in the region free of charge and lay strong educational foundations from an early age. The cost of construction and operation is estimated at around 10,000 euros.
Before leaving for Burundi with the volunteers, we showed them around the Museum of Genocide of 1994, where we saw with pain of soul the atrocities that took place a few years ago, leaving numerous open wounds. In this traumatized society, we are certain that Orthodoxy can comfort and give hope to all people, unlike many other denominations which unfortunately took part in the bloody cycle of hatred by driving people away from the love of Christ.
On arriving in Bujumbura, capital of Burundi, volunteers of the “Contribution” society immediately began preparing for the Orthodox camp on the hill of Buramata. It is a village which became a shelter for all the people that were uprooted from their homes because of the genocide and the civil war. Although the government gave this rudimentary shelter, it failed to provide a piece of land or even a water supply. As a result, people can only find food for their children every second or third day. In this location a six-grade elementary school has been built, and we do everything in our power to provide the school children with access to clean drinking water so that they will not have to walk long distances every day carrying jerry cans on their heads. Father Nektarios, who has only recently been ordained to the priesthood, is the headmaster of this school. Besides the school, we also have the imposing presence of the Sacred Church of Saint Alexios the Man of God, which is filled with the beautiful voices of the people attending every church service.
This place, though so poor in material goods and stimuli, was filled with life and joy of Christ during the camping period that was organized by the “Contribution”. The person in charge, Irene Papahatzis, wrote about it: “From the very first moment we were surrounded by hundreds of happy children who were shouting joyfully for our coming and were trying to catch our hands in order to greet us. Immediately we realized that choosing some children only for the camp was not possible, that is why we handed out applications for all the children of the village, who were more than 550!! Fortunately we were helped considerably by the 32 group leaders who were offered the standard two- day training and conduced to shaping the program. Equally valuable was the help on the part of the priests who were constantly by our side and with lots of enthusiasm encouraged young and old to participate with love in Christ in all camp activities. Every day was full of joy.” Apart from organizing this camp, the volunteers of the “Contribution” handed out school supplies to all children and offered scholarships to all graduates who were promoted to middle school, and are now required to pay tuition fees. We also asked them, if they could, to sponsor the scholarships of the children who want to go to university, and they told us that they were looking for people in Greece who would like to take on some of these scholarships.
The highlight of August for our local Church in Burundi was nothing else but the festive celebration in our cathedral church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This great Marian feast was celebrated together with our Orthodox brothers who had come from Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Tanzania and Greece. On the same day, during the solemn Divine Liturgy, the entire congregation shouted out “Worthy” twice. First for father Nektarios, who was ordained a priest, and then for father Panagiotis, who was ordained a deacon. The celebration of these exceptional events was continued beyond the precincts of the Sacred Church with the food that was offered to all the faithful, who would not stop cheering for their new clerics.
Immediately after that, we left together by car for Rwanda, where the catechumens were expecting us anxiously in order to receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of baptism. Hundreds of people were gathered near a small creek in order to watch joyously the illumination of the first 230 Orthodox Rwandans. Men, women and children were entering the river, our own little Jordan, with joy while all of them resembled angels in their white tunics. In the Divine Liturgy conducted outdoors for the first time, the neophytes partook of the Blessed Sacrament with their new Christian name.
Then, we visited all the communities that eagerly invite us in order to learn about Orthodoxy. Even our brothers from Russia living in Rwanda, feel very comforted by the Divine Liturgies which we perform in a specific area at a house that we had to rent. Having this house as its base, the presence and work of the Orthodox Church has been officially recognized by the government. Of course we pray to the benevolent God that he enlightens people who love Mission, i.e. all of you and each one individually, to support us financially so that we can respond to the large number of spiritual and material needs of the long-suffering brothers of our Metropolis. The running costs are high, as we have to move constantly from one country to another and go to any remote area that is craving for the truth of our Christ. We try to make a careful planning of our dreams for building an Episcopal see, churches, schools and structures that could relieve the pain and misery of thousands of orphans who are still on the road, even so many years after the civil war. Finally, we would like to ask all our Orthodox brethren to remember us in their prayers for this new “little vineyard” that His right hand has planted.
Innocentios of Burundi and Rwanda
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