At the Symposium of the Vincentian Family, which took place from October 13-15, 2017 in Rome, the Superior General, Tomaž Mavrič, asked me to inform him of my mission in the Burundian refugee camp of Mahama in Rwanda. Following up on that request, I would like to write to you, Father Tomaž, these few lines about my mission.

First, I will introduce myself before presenting my weekly activities; next, a word about the visit of the Bishops of Rwanda and Burundi; finally, two interviews with refugee people who participated in the Christmas and New Year 2018 games organized at the camp by the chaplaincy.

1. Presentation of the chaplain

I, Father Henri Muvugha Matsinga, am a Vincentian Missionary of the Congregation of the Mission, Rwanda-Burundi Region, Province of Colombia. I was born on 5 March 1983 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). I was ordained a Catholic priest on 15 January 2017. My first missionary experience took place in Burundi, where I spent about six months. Beginning in April 2017, I accepted the call to serve refugees of the Mahama camp. This camp is located in the eastern part of Rwanda, near the border with Tanzania in the diocese of Kibungo. As a spiritual father, I have a duty to take care of the most vulnerable people. I like this sentence from Saint Vincent de Paul: “I cannot love God if my neighbor does not love him.” That is why, beginning in April 2017, as part of the 400thJubilee of the Vincentian charism, in order to be closer to the poor, the Rwanda-Burundi Region of Vincentian Fathers wanted to send a missionary to serve the refugees. I wholeheartedly received this new mission to serve the poor, my brothers and sisters, victims of the Burundian conflict.

The Mahama Refugee Camp is in Rwanda, Africa. It is located on the Kibungo – Rusumo road. From Kibungo to the camp there are about 67 kilometers. The camp is near the border with Tanzania. Thanks to this location, there is a lot of movement between the two countries.

Young people are looking for a good future, but they are being influenced negatively by the international mindset. For this, the people of Mahama camp are very exposed to various dangers; among others, contamination, especially HIV. That is why we feel the duty, with the grace of God, to help them face these dangers.

The Mahama refugee camp arose out of the 2015 Burundian conflict. Some Burundians fled to RDC, others to Tanzania and Uganda. In the Mahama camp, they are about 56,000, mostly young people and children. Catholic Christians are about 18,000, grouped in 20 Basic Christian Communities (BCC). All these people need help until they return to their home country. However, it should be noted that the situation is even worse in Burundi itself, because there is no peace in the country.

2. Weekly activities

Monday Personal recollection ____
Tuesday Visits to the sick + Anointing of patients and Viaticum 9 am – noon
Wednesday Visit to the Basic Christian Communities 9 am – noon
Thursday Adoration + Sacrament of Reconciliation 9 am – noon
Friday Listening to Christians and counseling them. 9 am – noon
Saturday Youth Supervision + Children’s Youth Club + Catechesis + Singing Classes + Adoration 7 am – 5 pm
Sunday First Mass
Second Mass
7:30 -10 am
10:30 am – noon

3. The Visit of the Bishops of Rwanda and Burundi on 7 November 2017

On that day, 14 Bishops from Burundi and Rwanda, accompanied by some priests, visited the Burundian refugees at Mahama Camp. They celebrated the Eucharist with about 18,000 Christians. In addition, other people of all categories came to meet with the Bishops, about 40,000 in all.

The Bishops sent a message of peace, forgiveness, reassurance, and patience. They asked the refugees to pray so that peace might return to their country of origin. In addition, they promised to do their best to approach the Burundian authorities so that the refugees could return to their countries. However, they asked the refugees to pray and wait patiently for the return.

4. Youth Supervision.

Among the activities of youth supervision, the great Christmas and New Year 2018 games tournament was organized from 1-18 January 2018. This tournament brought together the youth teams from the refugee camp. There were 31 football/soccer teams, seven volleyball teams, six basketball teams, and three seatball teams, and the participation of some 50 traditional Burundian dance clubs.

5. Overview of Christmas and New Year games 2018

Generally, the matches went well. However, the negative was not lacking, as you can read in the interviews presented here below. Nevertheless, for us the goal had been achieved: to build up unity and integration; to spread the message of fighting against diseases, disorder, and drugs; and to invite young people and children to like school and to enjoy vacation time to prepare for a promising future.

Here are the interviews of two young people.

5.1. I am Egide Manirakiza:

Age: 32 years
Sex: M
Civil status: married
Discipline: Abahizi Cultural association
Religion: Catholic

Positive aspects:

  • These games helped me to overcome sexual roaming. They helped me to avoid disorder.
  • The games helped us to reacquaint, to know each other, and to unite in the cultural sense.
  • We came together to display our talents.
  • Traditional dance helped us to find ourselves in their traditions without discrimination.
  • There was a balance in the prizes, because all the clubs succeeded at something in certain disciplines.

Negative aspects:

  • In terms of discipline, some teams brought players from outside the camp.
  • I hope that in due course we will receive prizes in kind and not in money, because money can become a bad master.
  • I wish they would buy us more balls, sport shoes, and uniforms for the next tournament.
  • I hope that the prizes will be announced soon.

Message: I thank those who helped us and I ask that they continue to assist us, so that there are more activities that occupy us especially during the holidays.

5.2. I answer to the name of MajuwaNduwimana

Age: 22
Sex: M
Social status: single
Disciple: dream dance
Religion: xxxxx

Positive aspects:

  • The games went well and we shared our goods and news.
  • I thank the chaplain for getting us together to play these games.
  • The games helped us to have fun and rest during the holidays and to avoid any kind of bad behavior.
  • In general, everything went well.

Negative aspects:

  • I prefer that on future occasions there be more information about the preparations.
  • That the objective be well clarified: to seek to discover and live the values and not to focus on the prizes.

Message: I thank the benefactors and may God continue to bless them. The games reached the goal of drawing close to and mentoring young people.

A final word

I would like to conclude by pointing out that I was sent to the camp to respond to the call of the Vincentian Charism’s 400th Jubilee, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). I am ministering at the camp as a member of the local community of Vincentians of Kabgayi, Rwanda-Burundi Region. The service to the refugees is given with the support of the Bishop of Kibungo, the priestly team of the parish of Rusumo, and the Daughters of Charity who have served in the camp since well before my arrival. These refugee brothers and sisters are the strangers we are trying to welcome according to the invitation that launched us on the 400th Jubilee celebration. In my priestly missionary ministry, I experience joys and sorrows in the service to the Lord’s vineyard and all this for the glory of God.

I thank very much those who support us materially and morally, especially the Rwanda-Burundi Region and the Diocese of Kibungo in which the camp is located.

Long live Charity!
Long live the Congregation of the Mission!
Long live the Rwanda-Burundi Region!
Long live our Lords and Masters of the Camp: the Burundian Refugees in Mahama!

Thank you.

Rusumo, 10 May 2018
Father Henri Matsinga, CM, Chaplain
Diocese Of Kibungo
B.P. 30 Kibungo/Rwanda



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