Burundi is a small landlocked country in the African Great Lakes region in central Eastern Africa, and based on gross national income - $270 - it is the world’s poorest country. Many factors contribute to a nation's wealth, including its natural resources, educational system, political stability, and national debt.
Though she wouldn’t put it in so many words, Laumy Luncha Alda Igiraneza, 18, is uniquely skilled to make her country a better place for all, by inspiring one person at a time.
For years Laumy participated in the activities of the national Missionary Childhood Association (MCA), known locally as Holy Childhood, and then moved on to lead her parish’s youth group. But the seed of leadership was planted by one of the 336 animators who accompany some 256,000 children in the 228 parishes Burundi has.
During her years at MCA, she said, “I became conscious of my human dignity, became self-confident, aware of God’s love for me and all His people.”
“I learned how to live well with others: my parents, neighbors, siblings,” she said. And in a country marred by widespread poverty, corruption, instability, authoritarianism, and illiteracy, Laumy also learned that it is not enough to work hard to improve oneself.
“MCA taught me not to join people in their bad behavior, and that it is not right to leave them behind either,” she said. “Instead, we are called to lead them in change, see how we can help them see the errors of their ways, and lead a life in accordance with God’s plan for us, coming together in unity, as a community, and praying for those people of bad behavior so that they convert, because God cannot say no to the prayer of children!”
Father Salvator Ngendabanyikwa has been coordinating The Pontifical Mission Societies and Missionary Childhood Association for the past nine years, and the phone line- the connection was too bad for a video call- couldn’t hide the pride he felt upon hearing Laumy, in the knowledge that if the quarter of a million children currently taking part in MCA activities finishes their cycles with a similar mentality, much is set to change for Burundi, a nation that borders Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
Celebrating 50 years of existence this year, the Holy Childhood in Burundi organizes Masses for children; weekly prayer meetings where they get familiarized with the idea of being missionaries in their own villages, schools, and homes; and a yearly collection during the month of January for the Pope’s Missions that during 2022 was record-breaking.
Converted into American dollars, the 300 million Burundian Franc, U$D 144,774, might seem like a drop in the bucket on the funds needed to help the Catholic Church in 1,100 mission territories continue spreading the Gospel. Yet considering that the national GDP is U$D 270 per capita, the sum is clear evidence that, as Father Salvator said, “when the economy is bad, love and generosity grow.”
“People want for the children to be able to live the faith, be missionaries,” he said. “And when parents see the impact we have in the lives of their children, they want for other children around the world to encounter Christ as well, and they are happy to help Pope Francis in this mission, through MCA.”
According to Father Salvator, Holy Childhood has a visible impact on the lives of children, helping them grow in their faith and giving them the courage to stand their ground while remaining polite, kind, and respectful of others.
Not content with the visible changes in the kids, he wants to help them grow in their faith and also in responsibility by printing the Bible for Children in the local language- Kirundi- and selling them at the subsidized cost of U$D 2. Similarly, he wants to print a book for animators of MCA, which has already been written, but at U$D 5 each, the cost of printing the 1,000 books needed is right now prohibitive.
Queen Tabitha Igiraneza, 13, has participated in MCA activities since before she made her First Communion. At the time, she said, “I was shy, unable to speak with people I didn’t know, much less in public. Today, I read during Mass and invite others to pray with me, advising them to put their concerns and challenges in the hands of God.”
As Jesus taught us, when two or more gather in His name, He is there. During this Advent season, as we prepare for the Second Coming of Our Lord, can you and your loved ones join the children of Burundi in prayer?
Would you consider helping The Pontifical Mission Societies spread the warmth of the Manger to children in the missions with a small donation?