Burundi archbishop supports Canadian church in opposing cross-border interventions

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Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Archbishop Ntahoturi
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Archbishop Ntahoturi

Bujumbura, Burundi
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has thanked his Burundian counterpart, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, for the Anglican Church of Burundi’s stance against cross-border interventions, notwithstanding its opposition to more liberal views on homosexuality in some churches in Canada.

“I am very grateful for the position that the Anglican Church of Burundi has taken,” said Archbishop Hiltz who met with Archbishop Ntahoturi during the course of his solidarity visit hosted by the diocese of Bujumbura Feb. 12 to 15. “We value our relationship with Burundi and it’s part of the reason why there are young people in our delegation; we would like a building and renewal of relationship.”

Archbishop Hiltz was responding to opening remarks made by Archbishop Ntahoturi, who underscored that his province “doesn’t want the crossing of borders.” (Some primates in Africa and South America have exercised episcopal oversight over conservative parishes in North America that are opposed to the blessing of same-sex unions and the election of a gay bishop.)

“We walk in different contexts but we value our communion as human beings,” said Archbishop Ntahoturi, who added that he would like to “open more doors” of partnership between the Burundian and Canadian churches.

Archbishop Hiltz reiterated the Anglican Church of Canada’s position that it has “not yet come to a conclusion” on whether same-sex unions can be blessed by the church. “We are working hard to live in the tension that we’re experiencing. But what’s created more difficulty is that there have been cross-border interventions in eight of 30 dioceses,” he said.

During their meeting, also attended by three of the Burundian church’s six bishops, Archbishops Hiltz and Ntahoturi agreed to explore new levels of partnership and co-operation between their churches in the areas of peace-building and theological education.

Archbishop Ntahoturi said he would support the Canadian church’s recommendation that peace and reconciliation be made the Anglican Communion’s sixth mark of mission.

“Peace-building is a real challenge,” not just in Burundi but in the Great Lakes region, said Archbishop Ntahoturi. He said that conflicts in neighbouring countries like Congo have tended to overshadow the crisis in Burundi. “We are small Burundi with a huge Congo (looming in the horizon) and we’ve been forgotten and it’s take us a long time to heal,” he said.

Recovery and rebuilding after more than a decade of war remains a challenge, he said, adding that the government has been overwhelmed by the return of refugees who fled during the war in the 1990s, as well as the demobilization of former rebels and combatants. Refugees who have returned from Tanzania and Congo have often been embroiled in disputes over land that they abandoned and which has since been occupied by new settlers. Refugee children have had a difficult time adjusting to a different system of education, he said. Archbishop Ntahoturi said that the Anglican church is doing its best to help reintegrate the refugees, often providing food, clothing and health care.

Saying that Canada has “too many” theological schools that dioceses are unable to sustain because of low enrolment, Archbishop Hiltz said, “It would be an exciting thing if we could sit at the table and say, ‘might we consider partnerships with theological colleges overseas’ Out of that could emerge something interesting.” He commented on how churches continue to grow in Burundi and many parts of Africa.

Archbishop Hiltz said that the Mothers’ Union in Burundi is “the backbone of the church in Africa.” He noted how it has been ” a real force for good” in Burundi, citing the improvement of family life as well as its involvement in peace-building, reconciliation and advocacy for women.

“We could benefit from some partnerships with the Mother’s Union here. Our ACW (Anglican Church Women) and Mothers’ Union could use a boost, a shot in the arm in ways that they can bear witness to the Gospel,” he said.

The Mothers’ Union, which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has dubbed “the fifth instrument of unity” in the Anglican Communion, has 3.65 million members in 76 countries.

Bishop Martin Blaise Nyaboho of the diocese of Makamba thanked Archbishop Hiltz for the Canadian church’s support for the church’s various ministries. Bishop Nyaboho, who also chairs the Burundi church’s commission for development, expressed hope that partnerships could be maintained at the diocesan and provincial levels.

Cheryl Curtis, executive director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), said the church’s relief and development arm, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is currently “assessing what would be the next best direction for us.”

She also said that leadership development of youth and young adults has been identified as a priority for PWRDF. “It’s a leap of faith. It allows our youth to explore a pilot project that would look for a common cause among youth in the Anglican Communion,” she said. “The focus is on faith journey and global justice awareness.” Three members of the PWRDF youth council – Heather Pearson, Maureen Bailey and Evan Ridderham – and PWRDF justgeneration.ca facilitator Simon Chambers were also part of the visiting delegation.

The Burundian church, also known as the Province de l’Eglise Anglicane du Burundi, has at least 625,000 Anglicans, according to the Anglican Communion Web site. It has six dioceses and 150 parishes.

The Anglican Church of Canada, through its relief and development arm, Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), has supported the work of the diocesan development office in the Anglican diocese of Bujumbura since 1992. In the late 1980s, PWRDF entered into partnership with the diocese of Gitega and funded projects related to relief, reconstruction and peace-building. In 2007, PWRDF provided $272,500 in grants for various projects in these two dioceses, which are part of the Anglican province of Burundi.

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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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