Pope Francis encouraged the bishops of Burundi to engage with civil society and proclaim the Gospel in order to promote justice and reconciliation in the fragile society.
“I can only encourage you to take your whole place – as you are already doing – in the social and political dialogue, and to encounter the government without hesitation,” the Pope said May 5 at the Vatican.
“Persons in positions of authority are the first to be in need of your witness of faith and your courageous proclamation of Christian values, to know better the social doctrine of the Church, appreciate its value and to be inspired by it in the administration of public affairs.”
His comments were addressed to the bishops of Burundi during their ad limina visit – a routine meeting between the Pope and the bishops of different countries every five years.
The bishops of the small southeast African nation renewed their ties with the Bishop of Rome at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. Noting the saints’ martyrdom, Pope Francis called to mind Archbishop Michael Courtney, who was assassinated in 2003 while apostolic nuncio to Burundi.
Home to some 8.7 million persons, Burundi is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is one of the world’s poorest nations, having in 2012 an adjusted per capita GDP of $625.
Some 85 percent of its population are Hutu, and most of the remainder are Tutsi; the country has seen two genocides: in 1972, at least 80,000 Hutu were killed, and in 1993, some 25,000 Tutsi were killed, months before the genocide in neighboring Rwanda broke out.
The 1993 Burundi genocide led to a civil war that lasted until 2005, which Pope Francis called a “terrible conflict.” Some 300,000 were killed in the war.
“The Burundian people are still too often divided, and deep wounds are not yet healed,” the Pope acknowledged.
“Only an authentic conversion of hearts to the Gospel can turn men to fraternal love and forgiveness,” he reminded the bishops, saying that profound evangelizing is the key to reconciliation, which also requires witnesses “who order their lives according to their faith.”
The first such witnesses are priests, the Holy Father said, noting with joy the opening of a fourth seminary in Burundi. He encouraged the formation of future priests, observing in particular the importance of the four pillars of priestly formation: intellectual, spiritual, human, and pastoral.
“It is through their lives, through their daily relations, that they bring the Gospel to all,” he reflected.
Referring to seminarians, Pope Francis emphasized that it is a “personal dialogue with the Lord” which is the basis of “all vocational journey.”
Those forming seminarians, in turn, must be “true examples of joy and priestly perfection; who are their neighbors and share their lives, who really listen to them, so as to know them and lead them better. It is only at this price that just discernment can be exercised, and unfortunate errors avoided.”
The Pope also affirmed the consecrated persons in the country for their efforts in education, health care, and aid to refugees.
Noting the country’s youth – the median age is roughly 17 – he said, “it is necessary to give the younger generation an authentic view of life, society, the family,” emphasizing the importance of Catholic education.
“Do everything possible,” he exhorted the bishops, “to ensure that at all levels, educators themselves are solidly rooted in the faith and in the practice of the Gospel.”
The presence of Christian values in the public square – including in public institutions – will advance a “more human and more just society,” he said.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis acknowledged that “the recent history of your country has been difficult, marked by division and violence in a context of extreme poverty, which unfortunately perdures. In spite of this, the courageous efforts of evangelization in your pastoral ministry bear fruit in the form of conversion and reconciliation.”
“I invite you to not falter in hope, but to go forward courageously with a renewed missionary spirit, to bring the Good News to all those who are still waiting or who most need to finally know the Lord's mercy.”