Burundi "Angel" Tells of Rescuing Children
African Testimonies Impact Rimini Meeting
By Antonio Gaspari
RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The hope-filled eyes of children helped the "angel of Burundi" find God in the midst of Burundi's civil war that cost some 200,000 lives over nearly a dozen years.
Marguerite Barankitse was one of three African women who gave their testimonies at the Rimini meeting organized by the Catholic lay Communion and Liberation movement. The annual meeting is under way through Saturday.
Barankitse saved thousand of people, both Hutus and Tutsis, during the country's civil war.
She explained that her humanitarian work began when she took refuge with Hutu and Tutsi children, and Hutu families in the bishop's residence in Ruygi. The residence was attacked and the refugees were killed before her eyes.
"They were my friends; people I wanted to save. They left me alive because I am Tutsi, but they beat me violently as a traitor," she explained.
When the assailants readied to kill the 25 or so children in the house, Barankitse offered them all her money so they would spare them; the assailants accepted.
So began what today is known as the "Shalom Home," in which over these years Barankitse has taken in some 10,000 children. Today many of them are married and are professionals who continue to cooperate with the mission.
Barankitse has been awarded several international prizes for her work, but she said that in Burundi, many call her the "madwoman."
"But I say this is the fruit of love," she said.
Barankitse affirmed that at first, she wondered why the God of love would allow such things.
"I saw in the eyes of children a hope that was not extinguished and began to understand that God was answering me through their gaze," she said.
The other testimonies were given by two Ugandan women -- Rose Busingye and Vicky Aryenyo, founder and collaborator, respectively, of Kampala's International Meeting Point, an institution that cares for AIDS patients and their families, especially orphaned children.
Busingye, a nurse, explained that she found "in the infinite value of people" the strength to oppose so much evil.
"It is the recognition of the other that creates the reality, and that is present in the company of the Church," she said.
Aryenyo, a volunteer at the Meeting Point, said her life changed when she discovered, during her third pregnancy, that she had contracted AIDS from her husband. She said she wanted to die and rejected all help.
"Rose went to find me to help me and to convince me to be healed," Aryenyo said. "I kept rejecting her, until one day she said to me: 'Give me the child, because he has a life ahead.'
"We know that Lazarus is resurrected. If you haven't seen a miracle, it's here, it is me. It all began with a meeting, and this meeting has resurrected my life. In Christ, Rose has given me a person on whom to lean."