Burundi is a small country, situated between two giant nations: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Republic of Tanzania. It is endowed with a landscape of extraordinary richness and beauty, and yet it is one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is home to three peoples: Hutu, Tutsi and Pigmies who share the same language and culture. It’s green hills hide the suffering cries of many how came to know violence and death during long decades of conflict and dictatorship. It was only in 2002 that Burundi emerged from a political and ethnic conflict that displaced a million and brought death to 300 thousand others.
The Ideal of the Focolare Movement has also reached this place in the heart of Africa, only a few kilometers south of the Equator. Its roots go back to 1968, when a Belgian family moved to Bujumbura to find work and through the witness of their life, shed new light on the Christian message. Almost contemporaneously, another cell was formed around Fr Alberton from the African Missionaries, at the parish church in Mubimbi.
1979 was an important year in the history of the Focolare in this nation. At the request of the local bishops, a focolare was opened in Gitega, but following the first persecutions, the focolare made an emergency move to Bujumbura. This was the beginning of a particularly difficult period for the Movement and for the entire Church: total prohibition on holding any type of activities; churches closed during the week; the impossibility of spreading the Word of Life.
In September 1987, with the coup, freedom was returned and it was possible to come out into the open. Little by little, people were contacted again, finding with emotion that some faraway communities, the people continued to meet regularly to share their experiences of the one copy of the Word of Life that they had preserved for years. They carried ahead for years with only one Word of the Gospel.
Today the Movement is comprised of more than 24 thousand people in 290 groups spread throughout the country. Today the ideal of unity holds genuine hope for the people of Burundi. In a climate of tension following the war, the members of the Movement got involved in contributing along with the local Church in the process of reconciliation.
There have been some interesting achievements in the economic field and some innovative things are happening in the fields of health and education. In 1999 a group of volunteers of the Focolare Movement founded the CASOBU Association (Cadre Associatif des Solidaires du Burundi), with the goal of seeking durable solutions to the problems of poverty, through the process of participation and mutual support.
The “Chiara Luce Badano Social Center” was also begun, which cares for orphan children or children in extreme conditions of poverty in the Kinama quarter (outskirts of bujumbura), an area that was completely destroyed by the war.
The words that Chiara Lubich addressed to them on 7 October 1996 remain impressed in the hearts of these Focolare members in Burundi: “Always concentrate on our “Only Treasure.” You’ll be happy and have peace, even amid the difficulties that surround you. Jesus will always be with you in your midst, to touch people’s hearts, to reawaken faith in His love, and to bring unity. I am also with you in this constantly renewed commitment, moment by moment. . .”