AFRICA/BURUNDI - President of the Bishops' Conference: "On October 3, a further step was taken in relations between church and State"

Thursday, 16 November 2023 local churches  

Bujumbura (Agenzia Fides) - "This is a further step with which the State recognizes the importance of the Church", says the Archbishop of Gitega and President of the Episcopal Conference of Burundi, Bonaventure Nahimana, in an interview with Fides. On October 3, a joint commission and six subcommittees were set up in Burundi to develop agreements between the Episcopal Conference of Burundi and the Government of Bujumbura on issues of common interest. In the interview with Fides, Archbishop Nahimana reconstructs the origins of these agreements.

What does the move between church and state that took place in October mean?

“One must start from the framework agreement between the Republic of Burundi and the Catholic Church, signed on November 6, 2012 (see Fides, 7/11/2012, ed.) which provides a legal framework for the activities of the Church offers and regulates the relationship between State and Church. This agreement stipulates that arrangements for its implementation will have to be developed later. We remained in dialogue with the government and eventually set up subcommissions to study issues of common interest on which church and state cooperate. These commissions began their work on October 3rd. Once they have completed their work, their results will be presented to the Bishops' Conference and the government for consideration, and then the agreements will be signed.

Can you tell us what topics the subcommittees are focusing on?

These are agreements on public associations of the faithful, because the framework agreement guarantees the faithful the right of association to carry out their mission. There is also an agreement on education, because the Catholic Church has been committed to education since the beginning of evangelization. The church has an extensive network of kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and is currently considering opening a Catholic university. Another agreement concerns health care, as the Church has also been heavily involved in this area since the beginning of evangelization and has founded health facilities and hospitals. Another agreement deals with pastoral care issues, for example with the pastoral care for the faithful in the armed forces and security forces, for the prisoners in the prisons, for the inpatients in the hospitals and their carers as well as for the students and teachers in the public and state schools. There is also an agreement on human development and social support, as the Catholic Church supports the poor and needy. This agreement concerns the vocational training of young people, the improvement of living conditions, including agricultural projects. Finally, there is an agreement that regulates church property confiscated by the State: it is now a question of clarifying how this property can be returned in the interest of the common good. So these agreements recognize what the church is doing in Burundi and the State recognizes the importance of the church.

Several agreements concern lay people engaged in the activities of the Church...

As I have already said, one of the memorandums of understanding between the State and the Church concerns the lay associations, which in Burundi are numerous and of different types (charitable and apostolic). For example, Catholic Action and the movements associated with it are very active. In addition, there are numerous associations that care for the sick and needy and we want them to be recognized and guaranteed by state laws. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 16/11/2023)