Church in Burundi Celebrates 125 Years of Evangelisation

By Serge Zihalirwa Boroto and M .Afr Vatican City

Bishops, priests, religious, laity, leading politicians and people from different walks of Burundian Society met to acknowledge the harvest of faith whose result was the seeds of evangelisation planted by missionaries among the People of Burundi.

Jubilee year opened in Oct 2022

The Jubilee Year opened on 1 October 2022 at the Marian shrine of Mount Sion Gikungu in Bujumbura with the Eucharistic Celebration presided over by then President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burundi, Bishop Joachim Ntahondereye, of the Diocese of Muyinga. The theme for the Jubilee Year has been, “Building on the domestic Church, let us strengthen the gift of Faith, Hope and Charity that we have received through the Good News that has been proclaimed to us.”

For the closing Mass, the Archbishop of Kigali – Rwanda, Cardinal Antoine Kambanda, presided. This took place at the National Marian Shrine of Mugera in the Archdiocese of Gitega on 15 August 2023, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM).

Cardinal Kambanda was surrounded by Bishops of the eight dioceses of Burundi, together with hundreds of priests, religious men and women, and many lay faithful. All the people of God assembled for this jubilee; gave thanks to God through prayers, singing and dancing for the many graces the country has received through the evangelisation started by the first missionaries in 1898.

Harmonious State-Church relations

The President of the Republic, Evariste Ndayishimiye, was also present, accompanied by other political and military authorities. Before the beginning of the Eucharistic Celebration, President Ndayishimiye addressed the assembly and took the opportunity to thank the Catholic Church for her contribution to the socio-economic development of Burundi, especially through education and health delivery services.

He acknowledged the excellent relations between the Government and the Church and the harmonious cohabitation with other religious denominations in the country. President Ndayishimiye urged Burundians to let themselves be guided and transformed by the Word of God, brought by the missionaries and which continues its course with the current ministers of the Church.

The message of the Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, Section for First Evangelization and the New Particular Churches, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, was read at the beginning of the Mass by Archbishop Bonaventure Nahimana of Gitega Diocese and the current President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burundi. The Archbishop was also the homilist at this closing Mass of the Jubilee.

Gratitude to God for all the graces

In his homily, Archbishop Nahimana thanked God for all the graces received by Burundians over the past 125 years. He was grateful to all who contributed to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ in Burundi. He paid tribute to the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), the first missionaries to arrive in Burundi’s Eastern Region, where they founded the first Catholic Mission at Muyaga in 1898.

The Missionaries’ second mission to be opened in the country was Mugera, where the jubilee closing ceremonies were taking place. The homilist highlighted that these missions and the works associated with evangelisation, were the starting point for the many graces and blessings with which Burundi has been blessed: conversions, baptisms, vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, and numerous social and charitable works. Today, the Church Family of Burundi counts more than 300 parishes.

Renewing the Act of Consecration to Mary

At the end of the Eucharistic Celebration, Cardinal Antoine Kambanda and the Catholic Bishops of Burundi, together with the President of the Republic of Burundi, his Vice-President and the Prime Minister, renewed the act taken on 15 August 1961 in the same place by the Catholic Bishops of Burundi and Prince Louis Rwagasore, consecrating Burundi to the Blessed Virgin Mary so that she could continue to protect the country.

The Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa, Fr Stanley Lubungo, was also present at this Thanksgiving Celebration. During the agape that followed the Eucharistic celebration, Fr Lubungo expressed his joy at being in Burundi for the first time and being a witness to such an event.

While congratulating the Church of Burundi for 125 Years of Evangelisation, he did not hide his amazement at the many people on this holy hill in beautiful African colours to celebrate the jubilee. He felt at home with the joy of the Church of Burundi and for the gratitude and jubilation expressed to God by all present through various songs and acclamations.

In a video later shared with Vatican News, Fr Lubungo explained, “I feel very small to be the one receiving the tributes paid to the Missionaries of Africa because I too am a fruit of the mission,” he said.

He concluded by referencing Pope Francis, who reminds us in such moments of jubilee and thanksgiving “to look to the past with gratitude; to live the present with passion; and to embrace the future with hope.”