BURUNDI, Diomede Mujojoma •
The Lenten Action Commission from the Mount Sion Gikungu Shrine in Burundi visited Muyinga prison on 23 July 2017. They took along donations of clothes, 350kg of rice, 65l of palm oil, 140kg of maize meal, 35kg of sugar, 50kg of salt, 72 tubes of toothpaste, bread, ham and Fanta to give to the prisoners.
The delegation headed by Félix Naishakiye, the vice president of Lenten Action Commission, left Bujumbura in two vehicles at 7.30 in the morning. They were late in arriving because they did not leave on time. Then one of the vehicles had a burst tyre which increased the delay. To top it all off, one of the motorists who was driving that road for the first time drove slower than usual. As a result, the last vehicle arrived almost two hours late, given that Holy Mass was supposed to have started at 10.00h
Arriving at the central prison in Muyinga, with a town of the same name on the road to the Burundi-Tanzanian border, the prisoners welcomed the Mount Sion Gikungu delegation warmly with songs prepared by the prison choir from the entrance to the venue that had been prepared for Holy Mass.
Visitors and prisoners, Christians and Muslims around the Eucharist
Mass started after this warm and heartfelt welcome, felt by both the prisoners and visitors. Fr. Etienne Birori, the prison chaplain who celebrated the Mass, invited the head of the delegations to introduce his team. The Lenten Action Commission vice-president then introduced some of the members: two journalists – one from Radio Maria Burundi and another from Mount Sion Gikungu and 11 Action Carême members. Félix Naishakiye introduced the Commission’s work, explaining that Action Carême takes up collections during Lent and these are then distributed among the poor, based on each year’s objectives. He also expressed the delegation’s joy in sharing Holy Mass with the Muyinga prisoners.
On behalf of the prisoners, the chaplain thanked the delegation for their act of mercy, saying that this comes directly from Jesus’ teaching to help one another in need. He added that not only Catholics would benefit from this help, but prisoners of all religious backgrounds. For this reason, everyone participated in Mass, the most noticeable being the Muslims who were identifiable by their clothing.
In his homily, Fr. Etienne urged all the participants to purify themselves through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to make peace with anyone they had wronged and not to wait for Judgement Day when the wheat is separated from the weeds, as described in the Gospel of the day. He also urged the prisoners to use their time of incarceration to change their lives and stop thinking about vengeance.
After Mass and some final words of thanks, a prison official read out the names of 79 prisoners out of the 480 housed at the Muyinga prison who would receive the donations of food.
Sharing the help with all the prisoners to prevent confrontations
After Mass, the 79 chosen prisoners received the donations and shared a Fanta with the visitors. This was when the instructions for the distribution of the goods changed. The other prisoners became angry, vowing that none of the beneficiaries would make use of the assistance. After reaching an agreement between the 79 prisoners who were chosen, prison officials, the chaplain and the Action Carême delegation, it was decided that the goods would not be handed out that day. Instead the foodstuff would be divided the following day among all of the prisoners without worrying about how much each one would receive. The chaplain, prison officials and the delegation praised the 79 prisoners’ spirit of detachment from material things, for lovingly and bravely deciding to share the aid with all the prisoners to avoid a confrontation.
The prisoners give thanks and ask for spiritual support
Félix Naishakiye, the head of the delegation, said that this was a lesson for the group. He urged them to share the goods with fraternal love, saying that if God still works miracles, the next time the delegation visits, that they will all have returned to their homes. A representative of the prisoners also sent greetings to the Mount Sion Gikungu pilgrims, thanking them for their open hearts and asking for mutual spiritual support. The delegation left Muyinga prison at 15.00 and arrived safely in Bujumbura four hours later.
“Lenten Action”: Schoenstatt reaching out
Action Carême (Lenten Action) began during Lent 2007. Fr. Deogratias Maruhukiro was the rector of Mount Sion Gikungu Shrine at the time and had the idea to help the hungry population of Kirundo. After this experience, a group of the faithful at Mount Sion decided to create the Lenten Action Commission, as one of the pastoral activities of the shrine. It works closely with certain Charismatic Renewal groups at Mount Sion, such as the Compassion Group. Since its inception, the commission has been very active. It has visited nearly every prison in Burundi, helped integrate more than 100 street children into families and helped with the re-adaptation of children still living on the streets who were previously exploited for financial gain.
Original: French. Published 24 July. Translation: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa