By Jessica Dupont
Editor’s note: Jessica is offering her reflections while participating in a Catholic Relief Services’ trip to Burnundi. This is her second reflection.
Joy, peace and love – those three words can mean something different to everyone. I have often
looked at wall decorations that simply state those three words and thought, “I can relate to that as three important guiding principles in my life.”
However, little did I know how incomplete my connection to those words truly was until these past few days in Burundi.
On second day in Burundi, we traveled out of the city of Bujumbura to visit three Batwa villages in the Bubanza province that are supported by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) funded project, Action Batwa. Action Batwa is a project run by Fr. Elias Mwebembezi, one of the Missionary Fathers of Africa (the group also known as the White Fathers). Action Batwa’s mission is to assist the Batwa in being lifted out of the desperate poverty in which they find themselves. Socially outcast by Burundian society, the Batwa live in relative isolation from the rest of the population. We began our day in the Batwa village of Butanuka. Even before the car stopped, we were surrounded by the people of the village eager to greet us. Everyone wanted to shake our hands to express thanks for our visit. As we walked with them up the hill to the village, they sang the most beautiful song of joy, dancing and thanking Jesus for bringing us to visit them.
Once in the village, they showed us with great pride the homes that they had built with the assistance of Action Batwa. We spent a great deal of time with the people of Butanuka, seeing the beautiful community they had built and learning about the successful SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Community) project that had been instituted with the training assistance of CRS.
As we made our way to the villages of Kukabami and Musenyi, the greetings and the experiences were much the same: incredible joy as well as incredible pride in the homes that they had built and the village that they had established. All the work done with Action Batwa had put their needs and their opinions first, a concept that is central to method in which CRS operates. This experience exemplified our Catholic social teaching call to solidarity as well as subsidiarity. As Catholics, we must deepen our understanding of these concepts and seek out ways to live them in our own lives. It is not only the people of the Batwa villages that I will keep with me when I leave this place, but the lasting example of these important social teaching concepts in action and the amazing ways they can change people’s lives.
As we began day three, we came together as a group to have breakfast and share in Mass- binding our experiences here in Africa with our living faith. By late morning, we were on our way to visit the Missionaries of Charity at Kajaga. Founded by Mother Theresa their mission is to care for the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. At this site they care for children who have been abandoned as well as adults who are in need of their care. The sister who is in charge of this community has the most beautiful and calming peace as she greeted us and welcomed us to her community. Sister brought us around, introducing us to the children in her care as well as the adults. With a child in her arms, she moved from building to building with a peaceful and graceful presence that can only be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. In our group reflection that evening, one among us even commented that at times she appeared to be gliding. And here again, I’m confronted with my own previous limited perspective of what peace truly means. As we moved from the children’s buildings in the community to the buildings where to adults lived, Sister stopped in the chapel to pray and reflect. It was an unspoken reminder to hold peace in our hearts and that through prayer and reflection it can be achieved even when it seems most difficult.
Love has been a theme since arriving in Burundi for me. I witnessed it in Fr. Elias as he greeted each of the Batwa communities. I also saw the love each and every one of them had for him, and to a certain extent, for us as well. It is because of this love that Fr. Elias has committed his life to helping the Batwa live good and dignified lives as our faith tells us all people should. I saw the incredible love the children at the Missionaries of Charity had for the religious sister and the volunteers. As we toured the grounds, Sister had with her a small baby who had been crying when we walked into the nursery. The minute she scooped him up, he clung to her with his precious hands and looked up at her with the kind of love only a child can give. Lastly, the love and devotion I found in the Sister and volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity, the incredible care and respect they have for each life they care for is a perfect embodiment of the way God calls us all to love one another: all human life is to be loved and respected.
And so, when back home, my impression of those three simple words: Joy, Peace & Love, will be forever changed and will always bring me back to Burundi and remind me of the Batwa, Fr. Elias and the Missionaries of Charity and all that they are truly living out Christ’s call.
For more information on CRS SILC projects please visit: http://crs.org/united-states/introducing-savings-led-microfinance/