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A visit to Friar Ivica in Rwanda (1/2)
Monday, 24 August 2009 Written by fra Iko Skoko

fra Iko Skoko

Day 1, Tuesday 11. August 2009

I landed at the international airport in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda with the plane of the Belgian company “Brussels Airlines”. Upon arrival, I waited in a queue for an hour to obtain an entry visa. The personnel, police officers and airport workers were in no hurry. Some Italians, who were in front of me in the queue, became upset with fatigue after the long journey. The dawdling of the police officers got on their nerves. But this was of no use; it did not help to hurry the process.  I finally got the visa. I paid 60$ for it. I immediately took my suitcase and headed for the exit. I had three plastic bags with sweets and alcohol that I had bought at duty free in Brussels. The customs officers sent me back and told me I had to leave the plastic bags. They cannot be imported. Then, two metres beyond, the customs officers offered their bags at a price of 4$. I had to buy one.

The missionaries, Friar Ivica Perić and Pater Sebastian Marković and Magdalena Blažević, a young visitor to Rwanda, were waiting for me at the exit. Friar Ivica is a friar from Bosnia Srebrena who has been a missionary in Kivumu for the past six years. Before that he was a missionary in Uganda. Pater Sebastian is a Salesian. He was born in Posavina, and has been a missionary in Kigali, Rwanda for the past 25 years. This year, in fact, he will be celebrating his clerical silver jubilee.. Magdalena is a sixth-year student of medicine, studying in Vienna, Austria.  Her parents are from Busovača. She came to help out in Friar Ivica’s mission for two months. Before saying farewell to Pater Sebastian, we went into a Chinese restaurant to have a drink. We men ordered beer. The waiter brought two for each of us. It’s a custom, so the waiter doesn’t have to go again for the next order. If you want only one, you have to emphasize it.

samostanWe wished Pater Sebastian a good night and we left for the Friary in Kivumu in Friar Ivica’s small Toyota, with licence plates numbered RAA 684Y.  The first thing I noticed was the crowded streets. We were driving along a good asphalt road leading from Kigali to the southern city Huya (Butare). At km 42 from the capital, we turned onto an ordinary dirt road. However, we did not drive for long. The centre of the mission in Kivumu is only 2 km from the main road.

samostanWe arrived to the friary around 10 p.m. The generator was still working, so I was able to get comfortable in my room with the lights on. The friary was built in 1983. I saw the book of celebrated Holy Masses and noticed that the Mass celebrated by Friar Vjeko Ćurić on 1st February 1984 is recorded under number 1. At the very beginning Friar Giacomo Bini, the ex-general of our Order, had also lived in this friary.

Day 2, Wednesday, 12. August 2009

I was awakened by the sound of birds before 6 o’clock. I got up and walked around the friary. There is an orchard and a garden. Twelve meters further on, there is a barn with two cows. After the Morning Prayer, I went with Friar Ivica to celebrate the Holy Mass in the parish church. Passers-by greeted me with “Mwaramutse” which means “Good morning”. When we arrived at the church, there were about 80 people. The way to the village passes in front of the church, so some people were there on their way to the market. The women carried on their heads what goods they had to offer. Two ministrants and a female sacristan were waiting in the sacristy.

The Mass began at 6.30 in their language of Kinyarwanda. The people were so joyous. They sang accompanied by drums. Some more came to the Mass. No one was looking at their watch to check when it would end - not only because they don’t have watches, but because they are not in a hurry. In the church, to the right of the altar, there is the grave of Friar Vjeko Ćurić. I spent some time at the grave. After Mass, we went to the dining room for breakfast. I met chef Oswaldi and I gave him regards from Milica, a woman from Brussels.

I met the friars in the monastery: the abbot and pastor, Friar Matthias Kule, the vicar Friar Luis Marie Bandermbako, and a theologian, Friar Viateur Uwamungu who will take “eternal vows” on Saturday 15th August 2009, for the Feast of the Assumption. I also met a Canadian family, Mr. Douglas Shaw, his wife, Jayne and their son Timmy. They came for the summer to help out in the mission, especially the school, CFJ Padri Vjeko School. A young man from Kivumu, Egide, who knew the Shaw family while studying carpentry in Olds, Alberta was introduced to me as well.  Egide is a teacher in the carpentry program at the school.

At about nine o’clock in the morning, I went to Gitarama, which is about 6 km away from the mission, with the school’s secretary Immaculata Maco Magdalena. Gitarama is a city of some 100,000 inhabitants. This city played a special role in the independence of Rwanda. The first president, Gregoire Kayibanda was born there. There was a crowd in the street. They were very pleasant. Children approached us and shook our hands. First, we went into the bank to pay for a visa, so I could go to Uganda and Burundi. Naturally, we waited, without rush. The bank is guarded by a guard armed with a rifle. After we paid, we went to take photographs for the visa.

About 30 young men waited in the shop for their photographs. The photographer came outside to take my photo. He brought two towels as background, one white and one red. We requested a white background. One young man held the white towel for me. I managed to recognize myself in the photographs but I wasn’t sure the officials from the office for issuing visas would be able to. We still had to visit one more office to get a certificate of payment.

mjesto pogibije fra VjekeWhen we returned to the mission, Friar Ivica, Magdalena and I immediately left for Kigali. We took a number in the queue at the office for issuing visas. We were 56th, and the civil servants were just processing those with number 45. This meant waiting for at least an hour and a half. In the waiting room there was a French man, two Englishmen and some tall black men and a black woman - where they were from, we didn’t know.  Three East Indians did not wait in the queue; they went immediately to the civil servants..... We gave our documents and Friar Ivica asked for the visa to be ready on Friday. Then we went to have lunch. At about 2 o’clock we visited the spot where Friar Vjeko Ćurić was murdered. There is a monument there. We prayed shortly... I went into a church where, in 1994, there was a massacre. We also visited the Hotel Mille Collines, made famous in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

We also visited briefly Alma, who had come back from holidays in Sarajevo. She works in the USA embassy. She brought some presents to Friar Ivica from his parents.

Friar Joseph Ntahompagaye came to Kivumu in the afternoon. He has been appointed the new abbot in Kivumu. The new pastor, Friar Kizito Ngomanzungu will also stay with him and with Friar Ivica in the Friary.

We had cooked bananas for dinner. I had two. There are three types of bananas, one for cooking, one for beer and the third kind is for eating. I also tasted avocado.

Day 3, Thursday, 13. August 2009

We began the day with the Holy Mass in the parish church. After the Mass, Friar Ivica conducted the Rite of Eucharistic exposition and benediction. I visited the mission centre with Friar Ivica and Magdalena. The rooms below the friary, which were once the noviciate, are now renovated as guest rooms where volunteers can stay. It is here that the Bosnian novice master Friar Pero Vrebac once stayed.

centar Otac VjekoWe visited the Pere Vjeko Technical School.  Friar Ivica is the director of the centre. We saw his office, the classrooms and workshops. Presently, there are 219 students in the centre.  The program is divided into two years. For the most part, young men are learning carpentry, while women are being taught how to sew. We saw the boutique where their products are sold. An outfit for boys costs 1$. At the end of the second year, the best student in the Tailoring section is awarded a sewing machine.

The third semester starts on Monday. All students, teachers and staff have their noon meal together. Lunch is prepared for 250 persons. Meat is prepared only for lunch on special days of celebration at the school. For some students the lunch they have at school is their only meal of the day. While I was there, one group of students came to prepare the wood for cooking in the kitchen.

fra Iko SkokoWe also visited the rooms of the Association of Widows of the genocide from 1994. The management of the Association is weak. The cow and rabbit farms are in disarray, and the women do not work the land they have very well. They were mostly sitting on the ground when we came in. You feel the most heartache when you enter the room where there are malnourished children. Children who are at point of death from malnourishment are brought to the shelter to eat something. We stopped next to two small children and wanted to talk to them. They only watched silently.

dom zdravljaThere is always a crowd in front of the Health centre. A lot of people wait, seated on the few benches or on the ground. Friar Ivica showed us a young man with AIDs. There are special rooms in the health centre for admitting such patients. People have to be tested for AIDs before getting married in Rwanda. If they do have AIDs, they cannot get married. There is also a maternity hospital in the Health centre.

fra Iko SkokoWe also visited the convent. The nuns manage the Health Centre and the shelter for malnourished children. Their noviciate is in one part of the convent. They have six noviciates. The governess presented three of them, three others were away working. Behind the convent, there is a kitchen and dining room for feeding children whose parents have died of AIDs. Friar Ivica asked the teacher Jean-Paul to take us to his village to see his house. We passed a small coffee field. Then we passed between some houses on a narrow path. Children were everywhere. Behind every bush there is at least one child waiving a little hand. Some approached us and shook our hands. They are so loveable. We took photos of two girls and showed it to them. They laughed loudly. That was the first time they saw their faces. They have no mirrors in their homes.

djeca u KivumuIn front of one house we so as many as three cows. That was one of the richer families. Cows, sheep and hens have to be enclosed. Only goats can be outside. After an hour of walking, we came to Jean-Paul’s house. He is one of the wealthier people in Kivumu. He works in the school. He gets paid. He built a new house. His house is especially valuable because there is water in front of it. From that one small tap, his mother poured water into buckets. One young man and a woman with three children were waiting in line for water. Women and children carry water home in plastic containers on their heads. If a man is carrying something on his head, then it’s beer.

On the way back through the forest, Jean-Paul warned us about the trees, because there are snakes. He showed us a small shop where he buys things. Then he showed us the house of the richest man living near him. He said: “He is rich. He has a 20 metre long house and cars. He manages the football club in Kivumu”.

We went back to the friary before lunch. During lunch, the Provincial, Friar Sebastian Unser, also came. After 5 p.m. we had Vespers in the small chapel at the friary.

Magdalena and I went to the market which is near the asphalt road. Some people were selling bananas, others pineapple, avocado and grapefruit, some people sold tomatoes or potatoes.  One man was selling ten sheep. Ten meters away, a few men and girls offered haircuts. Many people were waiting in line. One of the haircutters was even cutting hair with an electrical machine. We could not hear what people were saying because of the sound of the motor of that machine. When Pater Sebastian, a Salesian priest, arrived from Kigali, we went with him to visit the bishopric centre in Kabgaya, which is 3 km distant from Gitarama. The cathedral is very large. The roof collapsed recently. Thank God it was during the night between Saturday and Sunday. When he lived, Friar Vjeko was the “economist” of the bishopric.

sjemeništeThere are several schools, a small preparatory, a seminary, a hospital, a printing house nearby. Not far from the cathedral, on one hill, there is the cemetery for priests. Pater Sebastian showed us their Salesian seminary on the way back. On the way out from Gitarama, there is a prison. There are about 8000 prisoners there. One can only imagine the conditions inside. Firar Vjeko had been trying to help improve the living condition of prisoners. He even had toilets and showers built for them.

At 7 p.m., during the prayer in the chapel, Friar Viateur signed documents waiving ownership of material goods, and everything he will do in the future shall be for the community. The document was also signed by the Provincial, and by the former and the new abbot. Cassava and baked sweet potato were for dinner. Beans and rice are most often served for meals.

Translated by:
Edited by: Valerie K. K.

Father Vjeko Center

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