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Peter Meienberg

Lesen Sie den Bericht im Boston Globe vom 1. August 1994 zum Einsatz von Peter Meienberg im Flüchtlingslager in Goma/Zaire.

1. August 1994, Boston Globe


Author: By Steve Fainaru, Globe Staff

KIBUMBA, Zaire -- Barefoot and filthy, many with hacking, phlegmatic coughs, about 400 Rwandan refugees assembled on a small, windswept plateau yesterday afternoon to celebrate 1 o'clock Mass in one of the most hellish places on Earth.
The jarring drone of American bulldozers digging mass graves could be heard in the distance as a Swiss priest, Rev. Peter Meienberg, read from a Swahili Bible and parishioners sang African hymns during the 90-minute service. The refugees - grandmothers with children in tow, mothers nursing babies, elderly men propped up by wooden staffs and scores of small children - emerged from grass huts bearing rosary beads and Bibles after a woman with a bullhorn informed them of the service. The Mass was believed to be the first held for the refugees, who are predominately Catholic. Their church was the gruesome Kibumba camp, where nearly 15,000 people have died of cholera and dysentery. Decaying bodies remain stacked on the side of the road.
Asked if it was difficult to maintain his faith while living in such desperation, Jean-Damascene Nkiranuye, who was a city official in the northwestern city of Ruhengeri before he fled, said: "To put yourself in the hands of God, that's the only thing you can do in this situation." The ceremony was all the more poignant for evoking the memory of the many nuns and Jesuit priests and thousands of Catholic Tutsis who were killed in churches by Hutu militiamen before they fled to northeastern Zaire.  Some observers believe that priests have been fearful of visiting the Hutu-dominated camps. Father Meienberg, 65, said he was not afraid but would have come to the camps out of "duty" even if he were.
"It is a shame for the church," said Father Meienberg, who is based in Nairobi. "There are so many Rwandan priests in Goma and they have not been seen in the camps."  Father Meienberg said he decided to visit the refugee sites after a dream four nights ago that he likened to "Paul's vision to come to Macedonia, in Greece." He spent Friday and Saturday walking among the refugees, performing the Sacrament of the Sick for the dead and dying. Yesterday, with help from the Irish relief agency Goal, he said Mass at a wooden table covered with a white cloth held down by chunks of hardened black lava. While Claire Rutambuka, a refugee from Kigali who is volunteering with Goal, summoned people with a bullhorn from the back of a blue pickup, Father Meienberg unpacked a Mass kit from a brown leather bag: a bronze cross, a red and black stole, an African-style chasuble, plastic bottles of wine and Holy Water and Communion wafers. He selected readings that signaled hope, he said, including Chapter 37 of the Old Testament, in which the Prophet Ezekiel walks through the Valley of Dried Bones and God brings the bones back to life, signaling the renewal of the spirit, "which is Jesus," Father Meienberg said.
The churchgoers were disheveled after spending three weeks in squalor. The refugees eat small rations of beans and rice. Some walk about 25 kilometers - about 12 hours up and back - to reach the nearest source of clean water. Yesterday, they gathered under gray skies, with a chilling breeze whipping in from the south and smoke from hundreds of thousands of wood fires choking the air like smog. Children with dirt crusted in their hair laughed and played; an elderly man with stuffing coming out of the padded shoulders of his sportcoat smiled and sang; a woman with thick eyeglasses wept. Nearby, a man who appeared to be a Rwandan soldier looked on skeptically. Older brothers held their younger brothers on their laps. In a canvas tent about five yards away, a mother gave her eldest son a haircut while two infants slept.
"We have a profound faith," said Joseph Kurazikubone, who directed rural development programs in Kigali before he left Rwanda. "Here, our faith is made stronger. We understand what is like to be persecuted." The refugees formed a circle about 10 deep around Father Meienberg, occasionally clapping for the priest. As Father Meienberg read in Swahili, an assistant translated the sermon into the Kinyarwanda, Rwanda's official language. During pauses, the refugees broke into soaring, joyous hymns. Their voices and rhythmic clapping filled up the afternoon, drifting over the horrific, smoky landscape like a cleansing rain. As the service wound down, several refugees offered prayers. One woman, a baby strapped to her back, asked God "for a new heart to love those who have been hurting me." Another woman asked God for "guidance in this time of distress." Finally, Father Meienberg gave Holy Communion. Instead of filing before him, the refugees waited while the priest moved in a circle, placing the wafers in their cupped hands and blessing them. Afterward, Father Meienberg walked through the area and gave the Sacrament of the Sick to hundreds of people, embracing sickly children and caressing faces in a camp where people refuse to shake hands for fear of passing along diseases.
As he moved among the huts in his flowing blue and white cassock, stepping over wood fires, people tugged at him to bless the sick in their families. When an orange sun began to disappear in the haze, he left, promising to return next week.

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