"Burundi Homes" Puts a Roof Over 1,200 Families

Initiative of Cardinal Tonini

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BUJUMBURA, Burundi, MARCH 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- What does it cost to change a life? In some countries, just over $1,000, and Burundi is a case in point.

The figure is the price of a house built with real bricks. Such as the one build under Burundi Homes, an initiative of Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, archbishop emeritus of Ravenna. The project has already donated 1,200 houses in this central African nation of 6.2 million.

Now, laughter has returned to neighborhoods in Kinama and Kemengue in Burundi. «We have given the greater part of the homes to war and AIDS widows, each with five or six children,» explained Xaverian missionary Bepi De Cillia, an architect and carpenter who coordinated the construction of the buildings.

The missionary explained that the project is being realized thanks «to the help of many people, [including] local construction workers, who have thus been given a job and have no time to think of war.»

The funds came from voluntary donations. Cardinal Tonini explained the nature of some of these donations to ZENIT.

«I can think of a retired man who wrote me a letter enclosing $2.50, in which he said: ´Cardinal, I have received my pension and it is all I can give for the little homes in Burundi. It is little, but I also want to be present there,´» recalled the cardinal.

Cardinal Tonini, who at 86 retains his youthful enthusiasm, also recounted the story of a Florentine woman who lost her daughter and, after selling her apartment, gave $180,000 to the project.

«Small and great gestures, all equally wonderful when it comes to quenching the desire for good,» the cardinal added.

There is much work to be done in Kinama. Some 900 homes must be reconstructed «for orphans and the sick, for other widows, to help these people, and their children who need food and clothes. This is a great hope for Burundi,» the cardinal said.

Another projects under way is the funding of 500 scholarships, thanks to the Italian bishops´ conference´s assistance to the University of Ngozi.

A tax rebate that Italians receive for Church donations helped provide $1 million for the project. The fund will be managed by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Michael A. Courtney.

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