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15th Anniversary of fra Vjeko’s Death
Saturday, 02 February 2013 Written by Fra Ivica K. Pavlović

15th Anniversary of fra Vjeko’s DeathOn Thursday, January 31, 2013, on the fifteenth anniversary of the death of fra Vjeko Ćurić, Mgr. Smaragde Mbonyintega, a member of the Bosnian and East-African Franciscan Provinces and Bishop of Kabgayi Diocese - the first diocese in Rwanda - celebrated Mass in communion with eleven priests. Among them were fra Joso Oršolić - Definitor and Special Envoy of fra Lovro Gavran who is the Provincial of the Bosnian Franciscan Province, as well as three Franciscan missionaries from the same province – fra Miro Babić from Kenya, fra Ivica K. Pavlović from Morocco and fra Ivica Perić, a member of the local Kivumu fraternity, who live and work in Africa.

Among the other concelebrants were fra Aloys Hakizimana, Kivumu’s parish priest and fra Fidele Nsengiyumva from the same fraternity. Fra Kizito Ngomanzungu, fra Philippe Ntawuhiganayo, and fra Joseph Bishyanuka - brothers from the neighbouring and only other Rwandan fraternity of Mbazi, as well as fra Ivan, an Italian Franciscan visiting Rwanda, were also present. On behalf of the absent Provincial - fra Carmelo Giannone, all present were greeted by the Definitor fra Nicodeme Kibuzehose - a member of the fraternity in Gitega, Burundi. In addition to nuns from various religious communities, many young people from Padri Vjeko Vocational Training Center, teachers and parishioners were also present in the church.

In his homily Bishop Smaragde talked about his encounters and acquaintance with fra Vjeko. In the light of the Good News, he pointed out, Holy are those who have faith, and out of faith, fra Vjeko loved the children and youth and helped the widows and the displaced. In the bishop’s immediate family, alone, fra Vjeko had sixteen homes built for widows and their children. His contribution to educational, pastoral-work, and humanitarian and social issues in the diocese was outstanding, and so he became an example for everyone for how things should be done. “He is a hero. When you love someone,” said Bishop Smaragde on Thursday, “you want to be near them. So it is good that his tomb is near, here in the church.” Mgr. Smaragde also touched on the subject of justice and finding the killers, particularly those who ordered the murder of fra Vjeko. He recalled how fra Vjeko had always been smiling and cheerful and in good relations with everyone because he had sought to meet people and engage in dialogue with them. “The murderer knew fra Vjeko, and fra Vjeko probably knew him, because fra Vjeko’s life was brought to an abrupt and violent end at a time when both Hutu and Tutsi were supposedly at peace and fra Vjeko did not expect it,” the bishop pointed out.

Before the very end of the Eucharistic celebration, a Franciscan nun named Epiphania, who was in the parish on the fatal day of the 31st of January 1998, also gave her testimony. She remembered her last moments with fra Vjeko at his last meeting in the parish as they were preparing for the celebration of Candlemas, or the Day of Consecrated Life. “Since fra Vjeko had some unfinished obligations, he asked us to continue with organizing the feast without him and around the middle of the meeting – before he left – he asked us not to forget to include the Prayer of St Francis for Peace. Around 6 PM I went to turn on the generator, which provided power to the church, the dispensary, the friary and our convent. Something was wrong with it, because in each of the buildings only one light bulb was working. This had never happened before and I was wondering what it could mean. I turned the generator off, and went to bed. In the morning I was awakened by the screams, moans, and cries of women. Fra Vjeko had been killed around 6 PM... I immediately felt that the single light bulb had been a symbol of a life being extinguished in this world.“

At the end of the Mass, the bishop led the prayer for the beatification of fra Vjeko, blessed his tomb which is right next to the altar, and a group of the faithful placed flowers and lit candles on his tomb. Don Sebastijan Marković, a Bosnian-Croat Salesian from Kigali, placed a bouquet of 41 roses on fra Vjeko’s tomb.

Padri Vjeko Vocational Training Center was also actively involved in the celebration of this significant anniversary. After the Mass everyone moved from the church to the Training Center’s schoolyard to attend a rich program prepared for the guests by the students and their teachers. The students recited their own verses and sang songs in which the lyrics told about fra Vjeko and his good deeds, and through short humorous sketches and traditional dancing, they showed their gratitude to the Franciscans and fra Vjeko for all that had been done for them and their land. The message of the youth to other young people and all guests was: “Let us not only repeat what fra Vjeko said to us, but let us also imitate his actions!“

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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