My missionary struggle began with the blessing of the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Theodore four years ago in the Diocese of Burundi and Rwanda, these two long-suffering countries of East Africa. Our main concern has been to heal the wounds or rather the deep scars left by the fratricidal war, which lasted nineteen whole years and ended relatively recently, in 2006. We want to teach them love by treating them with love. Healing, giving love: words that are easy to say or good to hear, but very difficult to put into practice. In addition to the wounds, poverty, privation, the difficult conditions in which these poor people have to live without even elementary medical care, without organized education, make them unable to overcome these problems by themselves and look upon us as their support and spiritual prop. They thirst to experience Orthodoxy, to be baptized and regenerated. As for us, we cannot say “no” to them. There are plenty of objective difficulties that we are confronted with. For example, our moving from place to place is not easy at all. This has become even more difficult over the last year after an accident on a rough road of our Diocese, which resulted in the destruction of the old car that served us. Now we are examining the solution of the motorcycle, but I do not know if this solution could be implemented because its price is still prohibitive for our meager means. However, we are not disappointed and despite all the difficulties that arise, we always find a way to visit our brothers, baptize them and establish parishes and Christian communities.
In Rwanda in particular, we have fourteen parish communities, four of which are very well-off given the conditions there, and number five hundred members each. Unfortunately, there are only four priests, who have to go around the whole country. One can easily understand that they are definitely not enough. In addition, there are no churches. People’s worship needs are served in the countryside, under the trees, the African baobabs, which also serve the children’s learning needs, since they fill the gap caused by lack of schools.
People of faith, readers and catechists have undertaken the difficult task of catechism, which precedes baptism. Also, their help is valuable in our effort to translate ecclesiastical books into the local dialects. We already have the translations of the sacraments of the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and that of the Presanctified Gifts , the Great Supplication (Paraklesis) and the Akathist Hymn, the Services of the Pentecost and the Epiphany as well as some occasional benedictions. We consider this work a great blessing of God, which fills the souls of the newly illumined with joy and happiness and encourages us to continue our struggle and try to imitate the work of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
As far as our missionary work in Burundi is concerned, it is generally the same as in Rwanda. Here we have eight parish communities and two deacons. Naturally, our moving from one parish to another is as difficult as that of the faithful. Therefore we consider church construction necessary for meeting the believers’ spiritual needs. One more dream which, up to a point, is about to be realized thanks to the kind hearted donations of anonymous brothers, is the operation of Middle and High School, the only one in Buramata region. We believe that by September we will have been able to raise the necessary amount for flooring, window frames, doors, plastering, the purchase of desks and other furniture and equipment that is necessary for the whole school process. Most indigenous children come from single-parent families, with the mother playing a dual role-that of the father too, struggling to make ends meet without any help from anywhere. Poor people, beaten by life and fate, who look upon us as their sole support .We try not to disappoint them, but at the same time we are careful to be sparing of our words and promise them every time what is feasible to be done. Arousing false hopes and expectations- especially in such poor creatures- is equivalent to frustration, which is something none of us wants, otherwise this whole effort could have disappointing results or be totally wasted.
† Innocentios of Burundi and Rwanda