rhythmic clapping, expressive dance, energetic singing, and spirited prayer
glorified God throughout the community celebration of Eucharist one Sunday in
July, 1996 in Lukole Refugee Camp. Located near Ngara, Tanzania, 25,000 Hutus
dwell in this makeshift settlement a few miles from the border. They have fled
the carnage in Burundi. Even in the midst of the news of the military coup in
Burundi the prior day, these Christians sang and danced with abandon. Perhaps
because they have already abandoned themselves and their futures into God’s I
hands, they had no qualms about letting go in dance this day. It was edifying
I had arrived in Lukole only a few days before to join Father Dan Ohmann M.M., Father Paul Shija
of Shinyanga Diocese, and Janet Hackert MMAF in their work in the camp. I was
well received and felt at home during this celebration of welcome. Surrounding
the altar were 15 young girls dancing to and interpreting the Lord Have Mercy,
the Gloria, and other liturgical songs throughout the Mass. I could not
help but notice the mural before which they danced. It depicted a refugee
family fleeing into Africa [(Egypt) from Nazareth. It reminded me of the tragic
stories I had already heard as well as of those I had previously read about
these people’s flight. They are hard stories to fathom, let alone sort out. What
becomes obvious are the sorrows and the tenuous nature of their existence as
refugees. All have been uprooted and fled for their lives. Many have arrived
alone, others with parts of their families, and a few with their whole
families. While most do not know the plight of their families and friends left
behind, some know exactly what happened to those who could not flee. They were
savagely murdered in their homes, in marketplaces, in churches.
circumstances past and present, it looks as if they are here to stay for while.
No one knows. It’s all too tenuous and ambiguous. "Where is the truth in
Burundi?" asked one Italian Sister who has spent 17 years in Rwanda and
Burundi. So much ethnic killing on all sides has involved so many people, it is
difficult to trust or to know where truth lies.
With people’s faith sorely tested by the killings and by
their present exile, it was a wonder to see their faith expressed so strongly
that Sunday! Yet, after telling their story, each one says in essence, "all we
can do is pray and trust in God. God is with us and will continue to help us."
And so that Sunday, during a song after communion while each verse grew in
volume and as the chorus quickened, the dancing congregation threw themselves
into the music. At the conclusion of the final chorus, the dancers literally
fell into one another’s arms. In their song and dance, these Christians
abandoned themselves into God’s hands — as well as into their neighbors —
daring to trust and celebrate God among them. As a welcoming Mass, it could not
have been more inviting. As an expression of a community’s, faith, it could not
have been more fervent. I saw God’s face that day in Lukole Refugee Camp.