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Marist Bulletin - Number 268


Bugobe, 10 years

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I am having lunch, when suddenly I receive a phone call from TV3. The journalists voice sounds familiar, as well as expectant and inquisitive. Núria, an old student of my philosophy classes at the college, wants to confirm the news about four Spanish marist brothers murdered in the refugee camp of Nyamirangwe (Bugobe, Zaire as it was then, Democratic Republic of the Congo today). “I dont know anything, I answer her. I write down her phone number. A few minutes later, I receive another call confirming the news for the worst: Servando Mayor, aged 44, Miguel Ángel Island, 53, Fernando de la Fuente, of 53, and Julio Rodríguez, 40, have been killed. It was October 31, 1996. Ten years ago. Two years before, in 1994, there had been a terrible genocide that brought around half million people to death. Thousands of people belonging to the hutu tribe escaped, mainly to the Congo (Zaire) and set up refugee camps there.
Four hutu brothers decided to help these people. Later on they were removed because their lives were in danger. Those responsible for the international politics were unable to act with some success. Africa was not in their agenda, but the area was a powder magazine continually sprinkled by social and political crisis. When the four brothers received the invitation of Brother Benito Arbués, Superior general, to leave the place, as their lives were seriously at risk there, they answered him: “We cannot leave behind those who have been abandoned by everybody. All the international organizations agents have left, and currently thousands of refugees who run away from other places on war are arriving here. We want to help welcome them. They wished to live out their mission thoroughly without looking for martyrdom. Things went worse but their message was still the same: If you were here, you would also do what we are doing. We have made up our decision to stay here if you allow us to. The four of us think this way. Today we can escape, in some days perhaps it will not be possible… Our will is to stay here. For the time being we are not threatened, the only ones that can do harm to us are the rebels that are coming, but it seems that they respect the white people.
Servando’s last message ran: “Everybody has gone away from the camp of Nyamirangwe. We have been left here alone. We are expecting an attack at any time. It will be a bad sign if we do not make a phone call this afternoon. All this area is very upset. The refugees run away bound to nowhere. They may come back here again. Now there are many infiltrated violent people around. We’ll stay here since we dont want to get mixed either with the soldiers or the armed groups.
When Servando was last in Spain, before returning to Africa, his mother asked him whether he really thought that he could do something for those poor people there. The answer sounded clear: Mother, when the refugees see us missionaries around, it is the same as if they saw God. If we dont help them, nobody will do”.
This was not social heroism, but deeply rooted faith: “I feel that God asks me to remain here. When I remember these four marist brothers’ martyrdom, I think of essential values. Their biographies were normal, the kind of standard people, so no writer would find the ingredients required to write a book on them. When you take a risk, when you play that game scoring life or death, there are no way-outs. They made it this way. Human suffering and a deep faith can explain their decision. This is a good lesson for our polished Christian religion, since a lot of current discussions inside our Church today are pure art. They and people like them are the genuine face of the Church. They challenge all of us now remembering them 10 years after they were killed. Somebody wrote a book about them and gave it a title that summarizes their lives perfectly well: “They loved until the end.
H. Lluís Serra Llansana

Preparing the anniversary (October 2006)

Tomorrow we enter the month of the tenth anniversary of the death of our four brothers at Bugobe: Servando Mayor, Miguel Ángel Isla, Fernando la Fuente and Julio Rodriguez. We would like to remember this anniversary by a brief reflection each day in the month of October. Remembering the daring response of these four brothers can certainly bring us a lot of light, can be a stimulant for each of us and can offer us the occasion of restating our gratitude to God for the gift of such generous brothers.
Lord, we can only give you thanks: You taught Servando, Miguel Ángel, Fernando and Julio to give without counting, to love in truth, in deprivation and misery, the smallest and the most threatened, day after day, constantly. May this example help us to give life to a fraternal spirit without bounds. Lord, we pray you.
Brothers Servando Mayor, Miguel Angel Isla, Fernando la Fuente and Julio Rodriguez were assassinated at the Bugobe Refugee Camp (Congo) on 31 October 1996. They had been working in the huge camp of Nyamriganwe since 1995. They had been organising the education of the children, had helped in the liturgy, had supervised the operation of the grinding mill and had provided help with their vehicle. In their letters and other writings these brothers kept declaring their real love for the displaced people and their strong loyalty to the same; the refugees had become ‘’their family’’.
They had given up their lives to the Lord again; they had heard God’s call in this Calvary like camp where so many persons lived in agony. They liked their new family, the refugees, more than the families they had left in Spain. Like their Lord, they loved up to the bitter end. The evident virtue that shone in and around them was LOVE. ‘’There is no greater love than to surrender our lives for those we love!’’ John, 15:13 And with the Lord they can say: ‘’No-one takes my life from me but I lay it down of myself!’’ John 10:18
They were all Spaniards who went through a very special human adventure. They had left an apostolate for a more difficult mission.
Julio had already laboured in the Congo for fourteen years and had joined the Bugobe community in 1996 only. He was the youngest one in the group; he had just celebrated his 40th anniversary when he was assassinated.
Reflecting on what had happened, Brother Benito, the then Superior General wrote, ‘’As your superior I had accepted your decision to stay in the camp although all other occupants were running away. With you I assumed the risks that you were running. But on hearing the news of your deaths I was very saddened by such a painful and brutal end. I grieved for your families and for the damage that your assassins caused to themselves. I am convinced that you forgave them for they did not know what they were doing. We, Marists, forgive them and we pray for them.
Thinking about the four brothers that he himself had sent on mission, and as though speaking to them, Brother Benito continued: I cannot hide that while I was in anguish these last few days, I felt a great admiration for each of you and a great interior joy because you have been Jesus’ witnesses by risking your lives up to a violent death.’’
Lord, we wish to thank you: You, the first martyr, you called Servando, Miguel Angel, Fernando and Julio near your cross. May their example be the oil for our lamps that we may be generous. Lord, we pray you:
Brother Jeff Crowe, General Councillor and the one responsible for the contact with the brothers whom he often visited, wrote: “These were four ordinary Marist Brothers, but exceptional. The daily concern to serve the refugees was an exhausting work… with a lot of frustrations. Their comfort was simple and immediate: the smiles and the signs of gratitude of mothers when they finished, exhausted, from distributing food to undernourished children; the times of joy shared with thousands of people who came to survive one day more, the small victories to establish a little more justice…
Brother Jeff Crowe continues: “they shared the insecurity, the grief, the fears and the frustrations of the refugees, without ever slipping into politics, without entering the spiral of hatred… They simply wanted to be with the people who were suffering, incapable of changing the causes of these sufferings. In the most bitter hours for these people, the brothers wanted to be men of faith, of hope and of love.”
Brother Jeff Crowe added: “They did not choose to die. But together with the thousands of people whom they had come to serve, they were the victims of a shameful and repugnant chapter in the history of humanity. Their example is the expression of a fraternity that challenges us more than a thousand words.”
Brother Jeff Crowe looks at their decision to stay in the camp, when all had fled: “Knowing the brothers, it was easy for me to understand their decision to stay. There were a lot of practical reasons to stay close to the refugees until the end: for these desperate people, full of fear, the presence of the brothers was a source of calm and confidence. Then there were times when the refugees had abandoned the camps but they had returned. The brothers wanted to be, for the exterior world, the voice of the refugees who were crying out to the nations about the human catastrophe they were witnessing.”
But there were more profound reasons (in their decision to stay). The brothers had lived so close to these people like “our new family!”, and they identified with them no matter what happened, that the slightest idea of distancing themselves was not only seen in a negative way, but it was taken as an offence. For them it was a question of fidelity to these people whom they loved, fidelity to a mission that they considered to be a privilege (the greatest of gifts, according to Fernando), of fidelity to their vocation as brothers following Christ to the cross. These ideas were constantly part of their community prayer. (Brother Jeff Crowe)
In the camps there are nearly 4000 children. Thousands dressed, or I should say, covered in rags with bare feet: an unimaginable spectacle… How can you understand the suffering that is hidden in these two million refugees for whom only remains the memory of a land, a lost house and the death of a million people* How can the wounds of hatred and vengeance be cured after having been submitted to so much violence and death* I do not know. On the contrary, I know that the presence of a Marist Brother in the camp is a light of hope. (Brother Servando. Letter to the brothers of the Province of Bética, 2nd July 1995).
Lord, we wish to thank you: You enabled Servando, Miguel Angel, Fernando and Julio to become true Brothers, Educators, Witnesses qui offraient aux réfugiés affection et services concrets.; help us to become real educators and witnesses qui offrent aussi, en ton nom, affection et services.
‘’Lord, here I am. These last two months, day and night, during work or while I rested, I have been trying to keep away your presence that ‘’assailed’’ me. You have no right! What do you want from me, Lord* Do not deceive yourself, Lord, the material you are using is very weak, very fragile… I am not worth much, I am poor; but I know you are the one who gives and I am the distributor only. I am not empty, but you are so great that you do not succeed in entering into myself, you are overflowing, you surround me… I sense that you want to lead me where I do not want to go. And, surprisingly, I proceed with joy in your peace, in your joy and in your serenity.’’ (Miguel Angel Isla)
‘’There is turmoil on the country’s borders. There is no more mail. The Burundi events provoked disorders in the Great Lakes zone which was already so disturbed. Mercenaries coming from the south of Bukavu have infiltrated our area. Refugee camps were attacked. Violence, plunder, death and chaos ensued. To top it up the five soldiers that were protecting us were recalled, leaving us defenceless in these dark moments…’’ (Fernando de la Fuente)
‘’My God, My God, we are going to die. Have mercy on us!’’
I am very well and I am working with a great deal of enthusiasm and joy among these people. I am lucky being able to live with them and to discover every day the presence of God, especially among the children.
Every Sunday evening I organise games with the children. It is a great joy for them and for me and for all the adults who come to watch us… Although I do not deserve it, God has given me this privilege to find myself among these people. (Letter from Brother Julio, 15th July 1996)
Lord, I offer you my life, it is Yours!
There have been times when I have felt ashamed of being a man and of belonging to the human race. Without wanting it, I have allowed myself to be overtaken by an intense feeling of shame of being a man, in seeing what people similar to me are doing to their fellowman.
I cannot recount facts. I pass on my impressions in seeing and feeling the facts. They are like mountain chains of accumulated sorrow which weigh heavily on thousands (perhaps, millions) of innocent people.
I don’t know if I am successful in making you understand what I am feeling so intensely more and more.
Lord, we wish to thank you: You called our four Brothers Servando, Miguel Angel, Fernando and Julio to work among the refugees; we want to pray you for the people they loved and served, for all the world’s refugees. Please tell us through your Spirit how we can help them ces gens qui sont dignes d’amour.
Testimony of Brother Servando - I am fully aware that my life is a gift from God’s love. Since I was a child, I felt welcomed at home. I have learnt how to love and to become responsible. At home, together with my brothers I have made the experience of generosity; sincerity and self-giving to others were part of my life and expressions of a true love. People trusted me and so I learnt how to trust others, how to be close to them. I have grown up in a simple and welcoming atmosphere, and this has helped me to appreciate the family sprit. The austerity of life and the mutual sharing at home have made me ready to use things in a simple and careful way. When we share, there is something for everybody and still something remains: this is a God’s miracle! Thank you, Lord, for the gift of my life. I acknowledge that the gifts I try to share with others are not the fruit of my personal efforts but a heritage I have received. Tanks, Lord!
Testimony of Brother Miguel Angel - My Brothers, Christ is risen, He is alive in you and me. He has committed himself – in what a strong manner!, to build up a kingdom of love for us and within us. I bear witness He is doing this calmly, little by little, but with no stop.
I had been asked to be the contact person between the brothers of Bugobe and the General Administration from half way through 1995 until the end of October 1996. I visited the community and the camp in this capacity every three months.
I have never experienced anything similar and I do not think that I ever will: it was not only the intensity with which each day passed, or the sensation of being constantly “alongside the tragedy”, but the experience of finding myself face to face with these extraordinary beings, passionate men, men full of faith. I consider it a privilege to have made part of the journey with them. (Brother Jeff Crowe)
Letter of Bro. Spiridion Ndanga, Superior of the District of Rwanda - The Marist District of Rwanda is living in a state of shock following the events at Bugobe on 31st October 1996. How can one understand that the charity that waives all boundaries and limitations can be met with such limitless hatred* 27/10/2006
Letter of Bro. Spiridion Ndanga, Superior of the District of Rwanda - These four Brothers have given true meaning to humanitarian action, action which does not recoil before any sacrifice, be it even the risk of death. They have given proof of a great sense of mission: “In situations where religion is persecuted or society is in crisis, we remain in the country, if at all is possible, through a sense of fidelity to our mission.” (Const. 80). They have died martyrs, imitating Christ totally in this act of supreme charity.
Letter of Bro. Spiridion Ndanga, Superior of the District of Rwanda - What was done to our four Brothers surpasses all understanding. They were neither Rwandan nor ‘Banyamulenga’, nor opposition. Why kill anyone who is not fighting against you * The violence of which they were the victims is unjust and senseless. It knows no boundaries because it is an attack on life itself.
Letter of Bro. Spiridion Ndanga, Superior of the District of Rwanda - The four Marist Brothers were not in Zaire our of love for a vague ‘humanit’ in general or for a marginalized people as a whole… They were in Africa because they believed in Chrsit and because they had very big hearts which had room for every man and woman individually who wlaked into their lives with outstretched hand and tears in their eyes. Ils aimaient Dieu et ils aimaient l’Homme… Ils étaient de cette race que parfois produit notre terre : aimables, généreux au point d’oublier la simple prudence du bon sens et de rester jusqu’au bout à défier le danger, généreux jusqu’au point de laisser leur voiture – leur unique moyen d’échapper – à des religieuses pour leur permettre de se sauver. C’étaient des castillans au front fier, le cœur sur la main, dont l’âme droite est sans arrière pensée. (Santiago Martin, ABC, 15-11-1996).
Letter of Bro. Spiridion Ndanga, Superior of the District of Rwanda - From out of a world which is incapable of coming to the aid of a great African tragedy arises the heroic example of missionaries, four of whom we know to have violently lost their lives on 31st October 1996. Now the world regards them as heroes and martyrs, which indeed they were…
The Congo today.
Ten years have passed. The Congolese earth, watered by the blood of our martyrs, still continues to drink the blood of many men and women murdered in obscure wars, victims of the lust and thirst for power of some within and outside. The Congo, the marvellous Congo, seems condemned to not know peace. Its problem is that it is too large and rich, an appetising morsel for those who do not hesitate to kill hundreds of thousands of people to enrich themselves.
Lately there have been the first democratic elections in its history. And curiously, the 29th October, the vigil of the anniversary of the martyrdom of our brothers, will be the second round of elections for president. Let’s hope for a successful result, as the Congolese people deserve it… I ask that the four brothers of Bugobe in heaven help this country to leave the abyss in which it finds itself. (Fr. José Maria Ferre).

Other material you find on our WEB about the four martyrs

* Biographies
Fernando de la Fuente de la Fuente - Julio Rodríguez Jorge - Miguel Angel Isla Lucio - Servando Mayor García
* They chose to stay
Br. Benito Arbués
* How it happened
Br. Benito Arbués
* Articles in the press
on the killing of the four brothers
* Letter of Brother Spiridion Ndanga
Superior of the District of Rwanda
* The truth as dynamic for change
Complaint about the assassination of Brothers Servando, Julio, Miguel Angel and Fernando
* Photo gallery
* Publications
* Video
10th anniversary (8,42 min)
José Manuel Barbié - Alicante, Spain
* Programs (in Spanish - Files ZIP)
X aniversario - 15,4 MB
Lo entregaran todo - 6,7 MB
Testigos - 10,1 MB
* Audio in Spanish - MP3
Frases de Champagnat - 700 kb
Testigos - 4,7 MB
Pasen y vean - 1,5 MB
* Music
Lo entregaron todo (MP3 - Kairoi - 3,4 MB)
* Power point
Lo entregaron todo (Spanish - 10,5 MB | Italian - 10,6 MB)
* Prayers
Word: French | Italian
Prayer service in memorial of the four brothers of Bugobe - 1996 - 2006
Word: English | French

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