Priest Killed in Burundi; Pope Urges End to Violence

Jesuit Father Elie Koma Caught in Crossfire

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2006 ( Benedict XVI called for an end to violence in Burundi, after learning of the killing of a priest on the outskirts of the capital, Bujumbura.

The Holy See today published the telegram sent by the Pope, after learning of the death of Jesuit Father Elie Koma, 59. The priest died Saturday after apparently being caught up in a gunfight between rebels and the army.

The Holy Father expressed his profound sympathy and exhorted “those who continue committing acts of violence to definitively renounce such works of death, so that the inhabitants of that country may live in peace and security.”

In a telegram to Archbishop Paul Gallagher, apostolic nuncio in Bujumbura, the Pope expressed “his profound sorrow … to all the members of his family and to his brother Jesuits,” offering “a fervent prayer to the Lord of Life for the dead and for all those in mourning.” The telegram was sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

In the note the Pontiff gave thanks “for all the work accomplished by Father Koma in the service of the spiritual growth of those who have benefited from his apostolate.”

“Trusting in the maternal solicitude of Mary for those coming together in faith for the funeral,” the Holy Father sent, “as a sign of consolation, a special apostolic blessing, so that God may guard you in peace and in hope.”

Ordained in ’80

Father Koma was in charge of the newly built Jesuit church in Kamenge, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Bujumbura.

The Burundian priest, well known as a director of Spiritual Exercises, joined the Society of Jesus in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1980.

According to early reports, Father Koma happened into a gunfight between militiamen in the place where a major of Burundi’s National Defense Forces and his wife had been killed. Some authorities also speculated that the priest was killed to eliminate him as a witness.

On Dec. 29, 2004, Archbishop Michael Courtney, the then apostolic nuncio in Burundi, was killed in an ambush in the Minago area, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital. The archbishop was a great promoter of peace at the height of the civil war that scourges Burundi.

Despite the government’s guarantees and the petition of Burundi’s ecclesial community, an official investigation commission has yet to be established to shed light on the Irish-born archbishop’s death.

Burundi’s first democratically elected president was assassinated in October 1993 after only 100 days in office, triggering widespread ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi factions. More than 200,000 Burundians perished during the conflict that spanned almost a dozen years.

About 65% of Burundi’s 6 million inhabitants are Catholics. Of the rest of the population, 23% profess indigenous beliefs, and 10% Islam. A small percentage is Protestant.

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