Anglican delegation moved by recent visit to Burundi

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Sarah Iradukanda welcomes Canadian primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

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

Archbishop Hiltz, who visited this east central 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 were PWRDF-funded projects that address maternal and child health, HIV-AIDS, poverty alleviation, violence against women, and peace-building.

“We Canadians have seen the servant church at work in the diocese of Bujumbura… We’ve seen piles and piles of brick. At the Mothers’ Union – which helps the sick, single mothers, elderly and widows – we heard plans to build more facilities and programs,” said Archbishop Hiltz in a eucharist at the yet-unfinished Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.

The delegation visited two “up country” parishes – Bitare, where a PWRDF and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) clinic is in its early stages of operation and development, and Rumonge, where the primate helped lay the foundation stones for a new HIV-AIDS clinic. Both communities are more than 10 km away from government clinics already bursting to capacity as Burundians who fled during the war that escalated in 1993 have returned home as refugees from neighbouring Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania.

At the 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.”

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.”

At the Conseil National des Igles de Burundi’s women, family and HIV-AIDS centre, where the Canadian-Anglican church is lending support, HIV-positive women displayed baskets of yams, onions, potatoes, peppers – samples of food they sell in the market, thanks to income 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 each 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 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.” He pledged the church’s commitment “to pray and to continue working in partnership” with the diocese of Bujumbura. “This brick represents 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 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.”
Other members of the delegation included Simon Chambers, PWRDF justgeneration.ca facilitator, and three members of the PWRDF youth council – Maureen Bailey, Heather Pearson, and Evan Ridderham.

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.

Another election is scheduled for 2010.

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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