Monday and Tuesday enabled us to experience something of the working of two dioceses in the Anglican Province of Burundi: Makamba and Matana. In each case, the relevant offices are clustered around the cathedral, giving a sense of diocesan identity and activity that is both worship and action combined.
Monday 16th - Makamba Diocese
In Makamba we said goodbye to Archbishop Martin and continued with his Development Officer and Diocesan Secretary. We first visited the HIV/AIDS programme. Like the other ministries, it is based in the diocesan offices.
In 2006, the incidence of HIV/AIDS was 4.7% of the population. Through the programme, the percentage has fallen to 3.1% in 2017. Theologically, the programme invites those who participate to see HIV/AIDS as a deadly sickness and to recognise that Jesus treated people who were weak and sick graciously.
Alphabetisation (the literacy and numeracy programme) began in 2000, recognising that 40% of adults are illiterate. The weighting of such illiteracy is among women and the programme helps give women the independence to care better for their children, to take them to hospital when they are sick, to preside over family planning and to make decisions affecting the quality of life in the home.
A further practical benefit is engagement in group-based micro-credit programmes, with 3623 people participating in the diocese. This work complements that of the Mothers’ Union which concentrates on advocacy, humanitarian actions, addressing Gender Based Violence, conflict resolution and family planning.
Our transition from Makamba to Matana took the form of a visit to a maize processing facility which is by the side of the road on the way to the southern shores of Lake Tanganyka. The facility is sponsored by Christian Aid, supported by the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. The participants spoke of how the project had enabled them to know one another, to work together, to grasp the principles of finance and business and, as the scheme developed, to rent more land to cultivate more maize.
Tuesday 17th - Matana Diocese
On Monday (16th) afternoon, we were met by Bishop Seth and members of his diocesan team and taken to the Burundian source of the River Nile on our way to Matana.
Matana Diocese has 55 pastors, of whom 7 are women, and 28 parishes. Historically, Matana has been one of the three missionary centres to which the missionaries came to stay. It built its structure on Mission and Evangelism, Health Services and Access to Education.
A cathedral that can accommodate more than one thousand people cannot contain the members of the parishes when they come once a month to worship in the cathedral. Therefore it is being supplemented by a new cathedral which will hold many more.
The composition of the diocese is familiar in an Irish context. Young people, on graduating from High School, leave for Bujumbura; those who remain are children and older people. For this reason, Matana Diocese invests heavily in chaplaincy in secondary school in all three provinces. From late August to Christmas 2017, the bishop confirmed 2205 Christians.
Diocesan programmes are similaer to those in Makamba with Gender Based Violence, HIV/AIDS, literacy and micro-economic projects following from numeracy and literacy programmes for women and for men.
On Tuesday, we visited two maize projects in the rural highlands. The first was a long-established project where the initial provision of seeds, training and capacity building resulted in the formation of a co-operative, the renting of government land and, eventually, the buying of some land of their own.
The second project belonged to the community of Vitezi. Here, the village consisted of a church, a primary and a secondary school and the Terembere Co-Operative. It is church based, involving Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals. It is a direct outcome of the Diocesan Programmes of Literacy and Numeracy, Development and Education.
The people were most appreciative of the way the clergy had allowed and encouraged the use of parish land. In open conversation, people spoke of the qualitative change in family life the co-operative had brought by enabling the whole community to be one family for those in trouble. The communities were clear about their differences from one another; they were also clear that whatever might separate their community, they will fight it. I could only hear a voice in the direction of parochial and community life in Ireland in this utterance of determination