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An African "Queen of Hope" raises spirits
"Young people must be a sign of hope in a world marked by so much violence, injustice, poverty in families with chronic diseases like AIDS; just as light brightens darkness; young people should be a bright sign in the world."
By Claude Piel
NEW YORK—Father Joseph-Désiré Nijimbere is pastor of “Queen of Hope” Church in the Diocese of Bururi in Burundi. Also known as Rutovu Parish, it is a place few donors of Aid to the Church (CAN) will ever finish—but yet they are present in a very particular way: their support has given the rectory a new roof.
For the pastor, the new roof is symbolic of his dream for the nation, a country wrecked by violent conflict among warring factions and poverty, conditions that most affect the young, the elderly, and HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Youth hold the key to Burundi’s future, the priest insists: “Just as salt gives flavor to food and preserves it from all rot,” writes Father Nijimbere, “young people must be a sign of hope in a world marked by so much violence, injustice, poverty in families with chronic diseases like AIDS; just as light brightens darkness; young people should be a bright sign in the world.”
In the summer of 2014, Father Nijimbere brought together 1400 young people for a festival of peace-making, whose highlight was the arrival of the “Cross of Youth.” The celebrations marked the climax of years of catechesis and intense ministry to local so-called “Small Christian Communities.”
Members of these communities share the same water sources and the same firewood; they know each other intimately and they share a life of prayer—meeting regularly in a chapel they built for liturgical celebrations as well as town hall-style meetings.
Said Father Nijimbere: “I know almost all families, those who are doing well, as well as those who are in need. Like Jesus, I am like the shepherd who cares for the sick sheep and those who don’t come to Church to find the strength in His treasures which are the sacraments.” The priest call his approach a “pastoral of proximity,” of being close to the people, no matter where they live; it’s a formula adopted by the Church throughout Burundi.
Bishop Venant Bacino of Bururi and “Queen of Hope” Church are both celebrating a jubilee this year: the bishop has been a priest for 50 years and, next month, the parish will observe the 75th anniversary of its creation. Both anniversaries are reasons for joy—to kindle Christian hope, as local families still look back to the violent deaths, recalled Father Nijimbere, “of many innocent civilians respectively in 1965, 1969 and 1972 and in the genocides of 1972 and 1993.”
Subsequently, a communist regime expelled all foreign missionaries and persecuted the Church. The damaged roof of “Queen of Hope” Church has been a painful reminder of many years of suffering. And today Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to seek an illicit third term at the helm of the country is causing fresh violence.
However, this summer, the faithful of “Queen of Hope” give praise to God, and the support of ACN. Money saved on the repair of rectory roof made possible the construction of a home with nine rooms, to accommodate seminarians in the summertime, who gain pastoral experience by visiting the Small Christian Communities on the hillsides.
Appropriately enough, the house was given the name Regina Pacis, “Queen of Peace.”
The Cross of Youth arrives at Queen of Peace Church; ACN photo