At the advice of Metropolitan Inochentie of Rwanda and Burundi and with God’s help, we had the opportunity to go on another missionary trip to this metropolitanate during the period of Great Lent and Easter in 2019.
- over 60% of citizens are young (under 25 years old) and
- the median age is 17 years.
I once spoke about this matter to Father Christos Mukiibi from Uganda, an orthodox born priest. He told me: ‘In the western world, people ask themselves: ‘Do we want kids? Should we have kids or not?’. They use reproductive rights as an excuse. But this is a culture of death. For us, family is very important and to give birth to children is a blessing from God. Homosexuality and related sexual behaviors are out of the question.’
Every time I travel to Rwanda or Burundi I am surprised at the amount of young people, especially children, I see everywhere in developed cities as well as secluded villages. This is not by chance however.
People who live here have a certain intimacy about them, noticed pretty quickly by an outsider. Adults hold hands often and children are seen hugging frequently. Our Savior himself held peoples’ hand during difficult times in their lives: the daughter of the patron of the Synagogue (Matthew: 9,25. Mark: 5,41. Luke: 8,54), Peter’s mother in law (Mark 1,31), the blind man (Mark 8,23), and the demonized child (Mark 9,27).
Before the Children Camp: Passover in Burundi
Palm Sunday – the Moment of Ordination
On Palm Sunday we witnessed the ordinance of a new priest and participated in the traditional procession around the cathedral “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” in Bujumbura (Burundi) all while holding palm leaves. At the moment of ordination, each person attending placed their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them creating a row that reached the altar.
Our Metropolitan, half serious half jokingly said : “I am not the one who is ordaining him, but all the parishioners here present”. Similar to all the other seven mysteries of the Orthodox Church, the Holy Ghost descends over everyone present, not just the people for which the mystery is being performed. The only condition is that everyone has to pay attention and participate in the prayers recited.
Catechetical Sessions in Burundi
The first catechesis session took place on Holy Monday, in Bujumbura (Burundi). Deacons, priests, and people in charge of reading gathered from the whole Metropolis to participate in the holy masses and other catechesis sessions. I was happy to answer their questions about the meaning of Holy Week and Pacha.
Holy Wednesday – the Mystery of Holy Unction
During Holy Wednesday, we attended the mystery of Holy Unction where the parishioners of several parishes were anointed with holy oil. At the end of mass we discussed the meaning of this holy mystery. Metropolitan Inochentie made a beautiful comparison: “The church feeds us through the chalice of holy communion the same way a mother breastfeeds her infants. We are all orthodox whether we are poor, rich, white, or black…”. Being Christian is more important than any nationality. We make up our own separate nation. This is the reason why we are saved as a community but as individuals we perish.
You cannot be a priest of Christ if you do not love people. The missionaries from the church in Cluj had a similar opinion: “It is worth traveling here just to be around Metropolitan Inochentie. He emanates humility, peace, and love and slowly instills these attributes directly into your heart.” The Metropolitan told me he feels the best here, in the middle of the community and surrounded by children, because he loves them exceedingly.
Holy Thursday – the Mass of Last Supper
I felt peace after the mass of the Last Supper. During this service a deacon was ordained as a priest. Shortly after during Matins, we walked around the church while carrying the Holy Cross.
Good Friday – the Lamentations of the Lord
On Good Friday, the church took part in the Lamentations of the Lord as well as a procession with the epitaphios. In the St. Alexis church in Burmata, where over 700 students attend orthodox school, the children were equally excited to pass under the tomb as they were to receive candy at the end of mass.
Great Saturday – the Earthquake
The Liturgy of St. Basil took place on Great Saturday outside of the altar on the epitaphios, which represents Jesus’ tomb. Holy Saturday is of great importance to us since this is when Jesus descended into hell to liberate holy souls who have been held in prison: Earth shattered (…) and the dead rose from their graves. This earthquake was marked symbolically before the reading of the Resurrection scripture. For a few minutes there were strange sounds throughout the church and the chandeliers were moving. It was a very emotional moment which helped me become more engaged in the service.
Every Saturday we celebrate the definitive abolishment of hell, as a result, after Sunday, the following Saturday is considered a liturgical day through excellence. But it is also a day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead.
Part of life’s culture is commemorating the dead, and for Rwandans this is constant. The 1 million victims of the ethnic war between the Hutus and the Tutsis in 1994 are commemorated annually for a whole week. There are many memorial museums in remembrance of the victims. Not by chance, our holy fathers taught us that remembering the dead leads to salvation.
After the Holy Liturgy in the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral in Bujumbura, Burundi, the baptism of 17 catechumens took place.
The parishioners received the holy light and a red egg straight from the hand of the metropolitan. They also sang “Christ is Risen” in greek, romanian, swahili, kinyarwandan and kirundi. Pacha is for christians what New Years is for secular people: the marking of a new beginning.
Easter/Pacha Children Camp 2019 – Rwanda
Thanks to the contributions of the Talpalari, Iasi parishioners and their parish priest Father Constantin Sturzu, who donated over 1000 euros, we organized a camp for a few days for the children of Rwanda.
138 children gathered in Rwamagana, Rwanda, to take part in coloring workshops, prayers and games. The children received breakfast and lunch. We taught them Christ’s prayer in the kinyarwandan language.
Great and Holy Tuesday we spent visiting a parish in Rwabutazi, and Wednesday after the Holy Liturgy the children dyed eggs red in Rwamagana.
On Great Thursday, we hosted a catechesis about prayer and resurrection in the St Katherine parish from Gishari, Rwanda. Friday, in honor of the Life Giving Spring, we organized a football game for the teenagers, and a coloring workshops for the smaller children in Rwabutazi.
The next day, the children from Rwamagana, expressed their creativity in another workshop for quilling and coloring. Another camp day was hosted on the Sunday of Thomas, when during the Holy Liturgy the parishioners sang the hymn: “As Many of You That Have Been Baptized into Christ, Have Put On Christ” (in Romanian as well).
Toward the end, we hosted a meeting with the leaders and clergy of Rwanda, where we organized the next few camps in the community. We would like more children to participate, and would also like to purchase food to distribute amongst the families of the campers. The purpose is for all members of the family to benefit, as they cannot afford to buy their own food typically.
Children Camp Conclusions
For me, this mission is an opportunity to exercise my ability to be generous and loving. I have made many friends here. Perhaps this is humanity’s most burning desire: to leave your own self behind while giving everything to the one next to you. This is where happiness feels at home. One just has to be open enough to receive it.