During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the dominant Hutu majority killed as many as one million Tutsi and other Hutus. The Genocide killed 70 percent of Tutsis then living in Rwanda, representing 20 percent of Rwanda’s population. However, for a number of years afterwards, there was a spillover into other nations from the Genocide. Among those, on this date, April 30, 1997, a group of Hutu terrorists from the Orwellian-named “National Council for the Defense of Democracy” attacked the Roman Catholic Seminary in Buta, southern Burundi, at daybreak. The Hutu terrorists then murdered 36 seminarians, along with eight members of the seminary staff. The seminarians were ordered to separate into two groups, Hutu and Tutsi. It was clear that the terrorists wanted the Tutsis to die. The seminarians refused to come apart and, as a result, all were martyred. Eight of the seminarians were from Rwanda, six were from Congo, and one was from Nigeria, while the others were from Burundi.
The seminarians had just completed an Easter season retreat weeks before their martyrdom. Father Nicolas Niyungeko, rector of the Sanctuary of Buta, wrote the following regarding the seminarians:
At the end of the retreat, this class was enlivened by a new kind of spirit, which seemed to be a preparation for the holy death of these innocents. Full of rejoicing and joy, the word in their mouths was “God is good and we have met Him.” They spoke of heaven as if they had just come from it, and of the priesthood as if they had just been ordained …. One realized that something very strong had happened in their hearts, without knowing exactly what it was. From that day on, they prayed, they sang, they danced to church, happy to discover, as it were, the treasure of Heaven. The following day, when the murderers surprised them in bed, the seminarians were ordered to separate into two groups, the Hutus on one hand, the Tutsi on the other. They wanted to kill some of them, but the seminarians refused, preferring to die together. Their evil scheme having failed, the killers rushed on the children and slaughtered them with rifles and grenades. At that point some of the seminarians were heard singing psalms of praise and others were saying “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” Others, instead of fighting or trying to run away, preferred to help their distressed brothers, knowing exactly what was going to happen to them. Their death was like a soft and light path from their dormitory to another resting place, without pain, without noise, nor fear. They died like Martyrs of the Fraternity, thus honoring the Church of Burundi, where many sons and daughters were led astray by hatred and ethnic vengeance.
The seminary in Buta is what is referred to as a “minor” seminary. It offered basic education and religious formation to younger men of high school age, who were considering vocation to the priesthood before moving to a “major” seminary. As to their courage, great love, and deep faith, the seminarians showed that they were already in the majors for they taught us God’s love and courage far beyond their years. Jesus taught us in the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 13, that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Almighty God, You call Your witnesses from every nation and reveal Your glory in their lives. Make us thankful for the example of the Martyrs of the Christian Fraternity of Burundi, and strengthen us by their example, that we, like them, may be faithful in the service to Your kingdom unto death, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. May God give great peace to the memory of the martyred seminarians of Buta, Burundi, who went into the presence of our Lord Jesus on this day seventeen years ago.