The tragic events that happened in Rwanda in 1994 quickly led to the creation of a jurisdiction that was cut from the Province of Central Africa and first named a district (1994), then a dependent region (1995), and finally the Independent Region of Rwanda-Burundi (1999). From 1994 onwards it had become difficult to have contact with Kinshasa.
On 7th April, the first day of the Genocide in Rwanda, 3 Jesuits and 15 other people were assassinated at Centre Christus in Kigali. However, the Jesuits decided to remain in the region and to carry on with apostolic commitments that had begun in Burundi since 1952 and in Rwanda since 1966. They did so out of fidelity to and love for the people who had been variously affected by the Genocide and, at the same time, wishing to be instruments of peace and reconciliation.
At the time of its creation, the Independent Region was made up of 5 communities and 49 members. The 49 included 1 brother, 1 bishop, 19 priests and 26 scholastics. In the last 20 years, the region has seen tremendous growth. It currently has 7 communities and 73 members, 37 of whom are scholastics. The apostolic dynamism of this young region manifests itself in different ways. For example, with the great help of the Penitent Sisters, the region established CENA (Centre d’Enfants Non Accompagnés), which looked after 200 children who had been orphaned by the Genocide between 1995 and 2000. CENA used the buildings of the Jesuit novitiate community that was then living in exile. It also catered for the education of the children and aimed to offer them the kind of love that was capable of healing emotional wounds. CENA was completed and replaced in 1998 by MIZERO (HOPE) Center. This center offered technical training to young people who could not have access to ordinary secondary schools.
In 2001, the Region initiated the Kibagabaga Project in Kigali, which is designed to offer primary, secondary and tertiary education. This audacious project went through several stages and procedures: acquiring land, raising funds, designing an educational structure, and collaborating with teaching authorities. A piece of land was acquired in January 2003 for this purpose. The primary school started functioning in 2008 and the secondary school opened its doors in 2012. Construction for the remaining part of the project is going on at the same time as fundraising is being done.
In Burundi, a primary school was constructed in Nyabiyorwa in 2004 specifically to cater for poor children. In 2008, SYM (YezuMwiza Service) was created to provide care for persons suffering from AIDS. SYM continues a work that was first started by JRS. The collaboration of religious sisters and lay men and women in all these apostolic commitments has been hugely significant. Moreover, the region has enjoyed strong support from different Jesuit superiors, notably Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Fr Adolfo Nicolas. Currently there are four Jesuits from other provinces working in Rwanda-Burundi, and avenues for greater apostolic alliances are being explored within Africa and Madagascar.
By André Bouillot SJ
Source: JHIA diary