The Dead Were Buried But Life Continues

By Sister Josephine Ong ICM

Burundi, a former Belgian colony, is a landlocked country in central Africa with an area of 27,830 sq kms, just over a quarter of the size of Luzon. 62 percent of its 6,223,897 people (July 2001 estimate) are Catholics. 85 percent are ethnically Hutus and 14 percent Tutsis. Inter-ethnic conflict has broken out a number of times and at least 200,000 died in a civil war that lasted from1993 into 2000. Trouble broke out again last year, as Sister Josephine writes.

On 5 July 2003 five new priests were ordained in our diocese in a beautiful ceremony that lasted nearly six hours. These were the first ordinations at Our Lady’s shrine, north of the city proper of Bujumbura, the capital. About a thousand attended the agape. And can you imagine nine choirs? It was impressive how all the parishes and the reception committee put their hands together to make this day memorable.

After a beautiful day

That was Saturday. At 3am on Monday bombings began, the start of a battle between the army and the so-called rebels that lasted till the 13th. During daytime helicopters bombed the battle area. However the sight of this didn’t prevent us from going back to work. Everyday in retaliation the rebels fired missiles at particular and varied targets that included a bank, a hospital, a place near the cathedral, a pharmacy, a nightclub and some private homes. A bomb fell close to the modern church at Our Lady’s shrine. Happily, nobody was hit. But we didn’t know how many lives were lost at the battle site. On TV we saw houses that were hit hard. Among the rebels that fell were boys between 12 and 15, horrible!

Calm after the storm

The 13th was also terrible because the battle got closer to where we live. I stayed put in bed wondering which part of the roof would be hit. Saying my rosary at the start was impossible, for I was shaking in bed. That took me 10 to 15 minutes. The battle lasted from 3am to about 10am. It was impossible to go to the church close by because the streets were blocked by the military. So we had to go farther out to the west side were it was calm and the parishioners were not bothered at all. On that same morning there was a fiesta in a parish further out for the blessing of its new church. At noon our vicinity was back to normal, thank God!


The dead were buried and life continued.  Teams of health workers quickly rescued survivors. The seminary and the museum hosted many people during that week, likewise the shrine of Our Lady. Houses were reconstructed with government aid. Slowly the displaced went home where there was still a roof and remained constantly trusting in God’s providential care.