Burundian Refugees Returning Home

The last Burundian refugees in Tanzania are preparing to return home – ending a humanitarian crisis that began more than 30 years ago.

Bishop Protase Rugambwa of Kigoma Diocese in the west of Tanzania told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) of his hopes for the future after UN reports stated that Burundian refugees – who numbered half a million just a decade ago – have fallen to 36,000. Now the government in Tanzania expects to close the last remaining camp before the end of September.

In his interview with ACN on Friday, September 18, Bishop Rugambwa spoke of how for years the diocese considered support for the refugees to be an essential part of its pastoral work. The bishop said, “We have tried to accompany them and help them spiritually, to seek peace and change their mentality away from hatred towards reconciliation.”

Bishop Rugambwa described how last month he visited Mtabilia, the last remaining camp, where he conducted Confirmations for candidates prepared by the Holy Ghost Fathers, a religious order of priests.

There was a steady flow of Burundian refugees into Tanzania between the mid-1960s and early 1990s. About 300,000 are reported to have fled during the mass slaughter that occurred as part of ethnic struggles in 1972.

Since 2002, when it was first considered safe for the refugees to return home, more than 400,000 have returned. Not everyone has wanted to return, however, and last month 3,500 Burundians were granted Tanzanian citizenship.

The Holy Ghost Fathers are one of the religious orders, along with the White Fathers, doing pastoral work in the diocese. Bishop Rugambwa said, “You can be doing pastoral work, but it obliges you to enter into the social area, and found schools and so on.” The bishop described the establishment of schools and hospitals as “traditional areas of activity” in the diocese.

ACN has been supporting Kigoma Diocese by providing stipends for priests to offer Masses for the charity’s benefactors.

Editor’s Notes:

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need.  ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.

For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384.  www.churchinneed.org

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