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An unforgettable encounter with the “dark continent”
Tuesday, 07 April 2009 Written by Ljerka Mintas Hodak

On the fields of RwandaWhen I was coming here, they told me that Rwanda is a country of a thousand hills. I soon discovered that it is not only a wonderful country with a thousand hills, but also a country of a thousand surprises! Magical nature, each fertile part of land cultivated in form of terraces, friendly and modest people - many of them deeply and sincerely religious, villages and cities swarming with life, trade, construction, unexpected safety wherever you go, and mild, almost European-like climate, even during the rainy season.

I have been a guest of Friar Ivica Peric for two weeks in the Franciscan friary in Kivumu, not far from Kigali. In that short time, Friar Ivica, with his vast knowledge and experience gained from working as a missionary for decades in these regions, and with the friendliness and love so characteristic of Croats from Bosnia & Herzegovina, showed me and my Croatian friends the beauty of Rwanda, as well as Uganda, Burundi and Congo.

We visited the amiable young friars in Rushooka, a small village in the west of Uganda. Mostly Catholics live in this village which has developed quickly, thanks to the presence of missionary men and women who have built schools, clinics, and helped to generally improve the conditions of the people living there.  We also visited an order of nuns in Mbarara, Uganda and in Bukavu, Congo.

With children at Centre Padri Vjeko

These encounters with everyday people and with friars and nuns who are missionaries dispersed many of my personal, as well general prejudices that most Europeans have of Africa. The truth is there is much poverty here which can shock us Europeans, since we live in excessive abundance of material goods. But in spite of poverty, the people here have the serenity of spirit, calmness and optimism which are truly captivating. When you are watching people painstakingly, but with confidence in life, endure their many hardships, we may well say that through them, Christ is to this day, still climbing Calvary.

I was thrilled that, unlike many humanitarian organisations - which send help to Africa primarily in the form of food, clothes and medications, the Catholic Church, especially the missionaries, also help by giving them the opportunity to provide for themselves through education. In this way, the Church not only helps these people to acquire knowledge and skills for various forms of employment, ultimately allowing them to escape poverty, but it also allows the people to preserve their dignity and value by being able to take care of themselves and their families.

It was an unforgettable encounter with the “dark continent” which hides so much beauty, wealth and potential, but which for most of us in the west is still unfortunately only a geographic term! Once you’ve seen and experienced Africa first-hand, you have to love it!

Translated by:
Edited by: V. K. Ken

Father Vjeko Center

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