VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI appealed for national reconciliation in Burundi to heal the wounds of violence caused by ethnic and political conflicts.
The Pope made his appeal to the country’s bishops on Saturday, at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to Rome.
The Holy Father first mentioned Archbishop Michael Courtney, 58, apostolic nuncio in Bujumbura, the capital of the central African nation, who was slain Dec. 29, 2003, during an ambush.
Pope John Paul II’s representative, Benedict XVI said, “was faithful to the point of giving his life to the mission the Holy Father entrusted to him at the service of your beloved country and the local Church.”
Burundi is trying to put behind it a 12-year civil war, which led to the deaths of more than 300,000 people, mostly civilians.
Elections are scheduled for Aug. 19, to form a government with both Hutu and Tutsi representatives. Tensions between the two ethnic groups have been the source of destabilization.
In this context, on May 15 Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye and the leader of the rebel National Liberation Forces, Agathon Rwasa, committed themselves to halting the hostilities.
After reading the Burundian bishops’ reports, Benedict XVI said that the Church is committed “to the promotion of peace and reconciliation in the country, especially at this time of electoral meetings.”
“The sufferings caused as a result of the dark hours of war, in which, it must be said again, numerous Christians witnessed to their faith in heroic way, have not extinguished the desire to work for fraternity and unity among all, following Christ and in his name,” he added.
The Holy Father hopes that the plan of action adopted by the Church will contribute “to proclaim the Gospel, to heal memories and hearts, to foster solidarity among all Burundians, uprooting the spirit of vengeance and resentment, and allowing oneself to be led by forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Benedict XVI pointed out that many Catholics in Burundi “experience great poverty and inner despair and are tempted to return to former practices not purified by the Lord’s Spirit or to turn to sects.”
“Look after them, dispensing a solid Christian formation, without disregarding efforts of inculturation, in particular, in the area of the translation of the Bible and of the texts of the magisterium,” he exhorted. “This will allow for an ever better assimilation of the Gospel message, while remaining faithful to all authentic African values.”
About 62% of Burundi’s 6.4 million people are Catholic. About 23% hold indigenous beliefs; 10% are Muslim; 5% Protestant.