Burundi, The Catholic Church in
BURUNDI, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
A landlocked constitutional monarchy, the Republic of Burundi is located near the equator in east central africa.
The Nile-Congo divide runs through Burundi, which is bordered by Rwanda on the north, Tanzania on the east and southeast, Lake Tanganyika on the southwest and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the west. A mountainous region that drops to a plateau in the east, Burundi is characterized by a moderate climate. Natural resources include nickel, uranium, peat, cobalt, platinum and copper, although the region relies primarily upon its agricultural sector, which produces coffee, cotton, tea, corn and sweet potatoes.
A Tutsi kingdom established in the 16th century, Burundi was incorporated into German East Africa from 1898 to 1916, and was subsequently administered by Belgium
as part of Ruanda-Urundi. The region gained independence in 1962, after which escalating ethic violence between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes culminated in 250,000 dead and 37,000 left homeless by 2000. Most of the population relies upon subsistence agriculture, and the economic health of the government is dependant on the coffee crop. Ethnic Hutu accounted for 85 percent of the population.
History. White Fathers arrived at Rumonge in 1879 but abandoned the mission when three members were slain two years later. The first permanent post was established at Muyaga in 1898. Together with Rwanda, originally under the vicariate apostolic of Kivu (created 1912), Burundi gained its own vicariate in 1922. After Bukoba was detached in 1929, the vicariate of Burundi split into the vicariates of Gitega and Ngozi (1949). The first Burundian priests were ordained in 1925, and the years following 1930 saw a multitude of conversions—1,000 baptisms a week in 1935—that made Burundi one of the most flourishing Catholic missions in the world. Conversions were based on a well-organized catechumen of four years in a population well disposed toward Catholicism and on an active lay apostolate that worked closely with the hierarchy. Two Burundian congregations of sisters and one congregation of brothers developed, and Belgian, Spanish and Italian secular priests assisted men's and women's religious orders in missionary work. Bujumbura gained a Burundian bishop in 1959 and Ngozi in 1961.
Following the country's independence on July 1, 1962, ethnic warfare broke out between the elite Tutsi minority, backed by the government army, and Burundi's Hutu rebels. Amid political upheaval, the government seized several Catholic schools in the early 1970s, and in 1979 foreign missionaries were expelled from Burundi. By the late 1980s the government further curtailed the Church, nationalizing both the major seminary at Ngozi as well as the country's six minor seminaries in 1986. A new constitution in March of 1992 established a multi-party political system; this was further broadened in 1998 in the Transitional Constitutional Act, which guaranteed freedom of religion. Church leaders were granted diplomatic status within the country and the Church was exempt from taxes.
While restrictions against the Church were lifted by 1990, the violence in the country escalated, resulting in massive emigration and a death toll in the many thousands. Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president was murdered in 1993. Three years later Gitega Archbishop Joachim Ruhuna, an ethnic Tutsi, was murdered, and Hutu-sponsored violence against other Catholics followed, including the massacre of 46 at the seminary in Bururi. The Organization for African Unity imposed sanctions on Burundi that were objected to by both Pope John Paul II and the nation's bishops. Following a joint statement by Burundian and Rwandan bishops, this embargo was lifted in 1999.
By 2000 Burundi had 130 parishes tended by 242 diocesan and 70 religious priests. Other religious included 140 brothers and over 900 sisters who worked as teachers and administrators at Burundi's 311 primary and 25 secondary Catholic schools. With the return of those schools that had been seized by the government in the 1970s, almost all of the students in the country attended Catholic schools, and some of them also went on to attend the state university at Bujumbura (1960), the board of which was composed of government members and clergy. Most Catholics resided in the southern and central regions of Burundi. Bishops remained active in peace negotiations, ongoing since 1996. A summit held in 2001 to discuss a planned transition to democratic rule was followed by a Hutu-led attack on the capital city of Bujumbura.
Bibliography: j. r. clÉment, Essai de bibliographie du Ruanda-Urundi (Bujumbura 1959). j. perraudin, Naissance d'une Église. Histoire du Burundi Chrétien (Bujumbura 1963). Ruanda-Burundi (Bujumbura 1963). Bilan du Monde, 2:179–183. Annuario Pontificio (Rome 1912–) 217.