Archbishop Brings Hope as Burundi Recovers

Across Burundi the air is thick with a mixture of hope and fear. Last month, the nation held its first parliamentary elections since civil war broke out in 1993, and the new government is coming to power in August.

That hope was buttressed for Anglicans there with the election of a new Archbishop and the first-ever visit by the international Anglican leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, on Friday.

When Williams arrived Friday in Bujumbura, Burundi, jubilant crowds greeted him with traditional drumming and dancing, according to the Anglican Communion News Service. He responded with words of hope and praise and shared with them the purpose for his visit: “to affirm and praise the work of the Anglican Church in Burundi” and “to show that we pray and care for the needs of the nation.”

Burundi is a densely populated country with more than seven million people. Its recent history is stained with much bloodshed – up to 300,000 people, or about 4 percent of the population, were killed in the last 10 years.

Violence there erupted in 1993 when Burundi’s first elected Hutu president was assassinated by the members of the Tutsi minority, which had always controlled the army and government. Shortly after, revenge attacks against the Tutsi minority exploded and attacks continued for the next ten years.

But finally, a glimmer of hope appeared. Burundi held its general election – it’s first in 12 years – and the vote was praised as peaceful and fair. What remains now is for the people to mend relationships and for the government to deliver justice for the victims who suffered years of political and ethnic violence.

Williams took note of those needs as he arrived.

“We are here to celebrate with the church; we are also here to learn what we can do to assist the process of reconciliation,” he said, according to ACNS.

Two days after his arrival, Williams celebrated the enthronement of Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi – the new Archbishop of the Church of Burundi. He continued his words of encouragement, and told the faithful to look toward God as they strived for justice.

"Depend on him in faith, and you will fully play your part in helping this nation to be transformed and led towards God's peace and justice,” Williams said to those gathered in Burundi’s national stadium.

On Monday, Williams met with the House of Bishops in Burundi to hear their concerns and hopes for the province. A prominent theme of the meeting was theological education.

Addressing the issue of education, Archbishop Williams visited Burundi University later in the day and told students there to bring lasting peace for the whole society.

In a post-conflict context, he said, it is important "for the university to help people throughout the country to imagine a different kind of life for themselves. Lasting peace and reconciliation will only come when people see a wider world in which their choices have a meaning."

He then visited the Kamenge Quarter, an area of Bujumbura particularly affected by the civil strife, where the church is now making contributions to rebuilding and development.

Today, Williams will attend a reception hosted by the newly-elected president of the Republic of Burundi, Domitien Ndayizeye.