Coping in Rwanda, Burundi and Congo

Sister Redin of the Daughters of Charity Tells of Traumas

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MADRID, Spain, JUNE 8, 2005 ( Sister Sabina Iragui Redin, a Daughter of Charity, and another religious arrived together in Rwanda from Europe 32 years ago, to establish the presence of their congregation.

Today, Sister Redin is still there, in Kigali, in a land that is struggling to overcome the trauma of the genocide, as she explained in this interview with ZENIT.

Q: How did you arrive in Rwanda and Burundi?

Sister Redin: We went to live and to found our congregation there in 1973. At that time, the Daughters of Charity opened six missions in Burundi and three in Rwanda.

At first we were called by the bishops to work in the health service as nurses. We were dedicated especially to care in health centers.

Little by little, native sisters were incorporated and our services were enlarged. Between the years 1985 and 1987, the president of Burundi denied all missionaries visas to continue in the country. The sisters who were in Burundi had to leave. Many of the native sisters came with us to Rwanda and we opened two missions in the eastern Congo, in the lake district.

Q: Then the 1994 genocide came …

Sister Redin: When it occurred, we moved to Goma, in Congo, to be able to assist the refugees. We began to work in the camps.

Some 35 sisters came together to help. Initially we organized a refugee camp with the Salesians and another one with Doctors Without Borders. The latter gave us serums and medicines to treat the sick, because we had nothing, only our arms.

Moreover, a cholera epidemic broke out. It broke out suddenly, because the bodies of the murdered were thrown into Kivu lake and people drank the water. The epidemic was terribly violent.

The French soldiers posted there brought us water, because there was no drinking water either. I remember one solider who said to us: «What work you do, sisters! What can I do, as I am doing nothing?» And he took out all the money he had with him and gave it to me. We used that money to feed the people, as it was sad to see them come from Rwanda without anything.

Later I went to work in a refugee camp in cooperation with UNICEF. It was a camp of orphaned children. There were some 5,000. They brought them from the roads and forests where they found them on top of their dead mothers. It was terrible. Then I returned to Rwanda, to Kivu, in the high mountains.

Q: And weren’t you in danger there?

Sister Redin: Yes, it was also dangerous in the mountains and we had to flee by another route to Congo.

But the situation wasn’t easy there either. Of our two houses in Congo, one was closed because one night they killed the parish priest of the village and the sisters had to be evacuated. And the other house, the one in Goma, also had to be closed when war broke out as well in Congo.

Then the eruption of the Yiragongo volcano took place, and the lava buried it. So that put an end to it. …

Q: How did you establish the mission after so many disasters?

Sister Redin: After 1996, in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, we had a meeting to respond to the new poverties that had arisen in the country, and we put our shoulder to the wheel.

Now we are working in several areas. The first, with the street children. They are very numerous, especially the girls. Then there are the prisons, where food is taken.

Q: The prisons are packed, aren’t they?

Sister Redin: And they will be much more so, because people continued to be prosecuted.

Right now there are more than 100,000 people in the prisons, but the figure might reach 700,000. We don’t know who is guilty or innocent, but there are many sick with AIDS and tuberculosis.

We also concentrate on working with women. It’s a country of women. Many men died, and many more are in prison. We have organized women’s associations and we work with all of them without discrimination.

Meetings are held, the Gospel is read, the word of God is shared, they are helped. Land is requested so that they can cultivate it and thus help their children to study and get ahead.

The women are very courageous, and it is worthwhile helping them because they have much fortitude and go ahead with everything. We also work with the orphans, with AIDS ….

Q: «Mission: bread broken for the world» was the motto John Paul II proposed for the next World Mission Sunday.

Sister Redin: Jesus is the real bread broken for the world. Becoming poor with the poor, I try to be that bread also, and share my life and enthusiasm with the poor, in a country of real poverty and, in this way, be a reflection of the merciful love of Jesus, because love is what is most important.

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