" Religion has played a key role in the genocidal violence racking Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda. But while the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda has been shamed by incidents of priests and nuns leading massacres, ........."
From.................... Time magazine
September 23, 1996
OF DEATH AND DEFIANCE
HATE KILLS BURUNDI'S RELIGIOUS FIGHTER FOR PEACE
By HOWARD CHUA-EOAN The archbishop did not fear death, even with murder all around him in bloody Burundi. Stories had been whispered about Joachim Ruhuna. One told of how during an ambush by thugs intent on killing him, he calmly asked for a moment to make his peace with God--a fearless request that virtually disarmed them, allowing him to go free. Though he had enemies on all sides, he regularly traveled without escort in a country where the two tribes are hell-bent on destroying each other, where more than 150,000 people have been killed since 1993, where in July the last elected President had to flee for his life into the U.S. embassy, where he remains to this day.
The Roman Catholic cleric would give no quarter to the murderers, either to the Hutu, who make up the majority of the country, or to his fellow Tutsi, who control the military. At a memorial for massacre victims last July, he declared, "Let me warn the killers and those who sent them: your crimes are the shame of humanity. And let me say to those who seek vengeance, if you too become a killer, God will curse you just as surely as he curses the others." Last week ethnic hatred overcame fear of divine retribution, and death came for the archbishop.
At 5:30 on Monday afternoon, Ruhuna was returning to his see of Gitega, 50 miles east of the capital of Bujumbura, when attackers opened fire on his car. Summoned by a witness, rescuers reached the site to find only the smoldering carcass of the vehicle. The bodies of the passengers, including the archbishop, had vanished. In the car was the one possession Ruhuna left behind: the miter he wore to symbolize the power of his office and his church.
Religion has played a key role in the genocidal violence racking Burundi and its neighbor Rwanda. But while the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda has been shamed by incidents of priests and nuns leading massacres, the church in Burundi has spoken out against hatred, extremism and murder.
For so doing, clerics have been threatened and killed in Burundi, where Christians, predominantly [Roman] Catholics, form as much as 85% of the population -- both Hutu and Tutsi.
Ruhuna had received countless threats before, as have other prelates. Both Hutu and Tutsi blamed each other for the crime, and on Friday the military announced it had killed seven Hutu rebels it claimed were behind the murder. Ruhuna's martyrdom has not led to a cessation of violence. In the 48 hours after his death, four other ambushes were reported. Since the military coup in July, Burundi has been under economic embargo, an attempt by its neighbors to force the rulers to restore the constitution and begin peace talks between the tribes.
Three days after Ruhuna's death, military leader Major Pierre Buyoya lifted restrictions on the parliament and political parties. The constitution, however, remains suspended, and Buyoya is balking at talks with Hutu rebels. Meanwhile, Rome mourned the death of the man Pope John Paul II called a "generous minister of God."
The pontiff will send Cardinal Jozef Tomko, head of the Vatican's office for missions, to celebrate a memorial service--or a funeral, if the corpse is recovered. That will probably never happen. The killers almost surely threw the archbishop's body into the nearby Mubarazi River, the way they have disposed of countless other victims.
-Reported by Andrew Purvis/Kigali and Toula Vlahou/Rome