Vocations to the Priesthood
In our Post for the 21st May our prayer extended beyond our seven Cistercian Brothers. That extension was dramatically underlined for us by the account of the 40 Young Seminarians martyred in
Abbot Hugh Gilbert OSB has drawn my attention to the moving article in
No. 145. Spring 2008
As the author points out, the story is scarcely known in English speaking countries.
I hope the following Links and References will make this example of young men aspiring to the priesthood an inspiration, and may promote and strengthen the faith of those attracted to the priestly vocation.
Excerpts from article, “The Seminarians of Buta Martyrs of Christian Brotherhood, 30 April 1997”.
It is against the background of the early years of this Civil War of
In 1965, in the southern
Shortly after, the seminary was secularised by the government, and then in 1988 returned to the Church.
Looking back on the years prior to the tragedy of 1997 and on his own ministry, Fr. Zacharie was able to see the guiding, preparing hand of
The Rector then began holding regular meetings with all the students. They would study together the news that was coming in, study and 're-read' the history of the conflict, especially the events of 1972 in which their parents had been involved. This allowed things hitherto kept under to surface. The boys began to express their fears, their sometimes one-sided or distorted understanding of events, and their ethnic prejudic:es. The only rule in these exchanges was that if one youngster insulted another, he was told that he was insulting everyone, bidden to leave the room for a time, and then return and apologise. Gradually the students discovered how worthwhile it was to search for the objective truth about their country's history. They learned to respect other perspectives and distance themselves from extremism. Gradually a culture of peace emerged. There grew a desire to disengage from the inherited conflicts and to move towards a better, reconciled future.
At the same time - another stroke of pedagogical genius - the Rector realised how worthwhile it would be to teach the boys the traditional Burundian dances. These were in any case in danger of being forgotten. He got the best dancers in the country to teach both students and professors. The effect was marked. Dancing bonds. This too, and sport (lots of it!), and the encouragement of societies began to create an extraordinary sense of brotherhood in the place. The students themselves founded an association to help local people cope with Aids, another to promote the environment. As the economic situation worsened, they began more manual work, which proved another bond, uniting staff and students as well as the students themselves. Various Youth and Catholic Movements also took root in the seminary: Scouts, Focolari, Schoenstatt etc., all of which helped. There was communal study of the Sermon on the Mount. And not least there was prayer, especially at the weekends, with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all through the night. All this was happening when so much education in the country was in crisis. The seminary began to become well known as a happy exception. The Prime Minister himself came to affirm all this. But those in the country who preferred to foment division were not pleased.
So we come to 1997. Easter itself seemed to be special, with many of the students saying afterwards how moved they had been by the liturgy of Good Friday. Then two weeks after Easter they had their communal retreat, animated by members of a local Foyer de Charite. This too seems to have been a time of unusual grace. At the final Mass everyone rose as if at the bidding of an electric current and danced, and were transported by joy, including the Rector. Then afterwards, after their days of silence, the boys began to speak. "I'm going to be a priest," said one, and immediately others burst out laughing because that's what they had decided too .. And others said, "In this retreat I've really met God face to face." One said to the Rector, memorably in view of what was to come: "Father, why have you never talked to us about
It's also worth mentioning an experience of the Rector's, which he dates to 5 April. He was praying, and there came to him a strong sense that something very good and very wonderful was about to happen to him, and that all he had to do to prepare for it was pray. He did thereafter find himself praying with greater ease.
By a strange
"Remember what happened at dawn on 30th April, in the dormitory of the seminary at Buta: forty of your own children - of different ethnic origins - remained united as brothers and preferred to die together rather than betray each other. Some of them gave up their lives praying for their murderers with the words, 'Lord forgive them; they know not what they do.' This is the highest example of human greatness and of love of neighbour which it is possible to give on this earth as followers of Jesus. In
The cause for the beatification of these young men has been opened.
God is good and we have met Him. --The Martyrs of the Christian Fraternity d. 30 April 1997
The isolated, mountainous country of
The seminarians themselves had made a special point of living in a Christian fraternity, where love of Christ was more important than ethnic origins. They had just completed an Easter season retreat before their massacre. Fr. Nicolas Niyungeko, rector of the Sanctuary of Buta in the Diocese of Bururi, wrote of the seminarians:
At the end of the retreat, this class was enlivened by a new kind of spirit, which seemed to be a preparation for the holy death of these innocents. Full of rejoicing and joy, the word in their mouths was "God is good and we have met Him." They spoke of heaven as if they had just come from it, and of the priesthood as if they had just been ordained .... One realized that something very strong had happened in their heart, without knowing exactly what it was. From that day on, they prayed, they sang, they danced to church, happy to discover, as it were, the treasure of Heaven.
The following day, when the murderers surprised them in bed, the seminarians were ordered to separate into two groups, the Hutus on one hand, the Tutsi on the other. They wanted to kill some of them, but the seminarians refused, preferring to die together. Their evil scheme having failed, the killers rushed on the children and slaughtered them with rifles and grenades. At that point some of the seminarians were heard singing psalms of praise and others were saying "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do." Others, instead of fighting or trying to run away, preferred helping their distressed brothers, knowing exactly what was going to happen to them
Their death was like a soft and light path from their dormitory to another resting place, without pain, without noise, nor fear. They died like Martyrs of the Fraternity, thus honouring the
Forty days after the massacre, the small seminary dedicated its church to Mary, Queen of Peace, and it has since, according to Fr. Niyungeko, "become a place of pilgrimage where Burundians come to pray for the reconciliation of their people, for peace, conversion, and hope for all. May their testimony of faith, unity, and fraternity send a message for humankind and their blood become a seed for peace in our country and the world."
Almighty God, you call your witnesses from every nation and reveal your glory in their lives. Make us thankful for the example of the Martyrs of the Christian Fraternity of
Notes: 1. Nicholas Niyungeko, "What's New in