How it happened

During the liturgical celebration held at the general house in Rome for the four Brothers who were assassinated, Brother Benito Arbúes, superior general, spoke to the large congregation about the events leading to this liturgy. He spoke of these Brothers and their mission to Zaire.


“Every Eucharistic celebration is an offering, an immolation and a thanksgiving. In today’s Eucharist celebration, several special motifs are joined to the sacrifice of Jesus, to our praise and our thanksgiving to God the Father of all goodness and all mercy. After the violent death of the Archbishop of Bukavu, Archbishop Christophe, our Marist Brothers followed: Julio, Fernando, Miguel Angel and Servando, and, finally in Goma, that of two priests and a Sister, all three Zairean. We must also add to these the thousands of people killed in this conflict who will never be spoken about…

The violent deaths of Servando, Julio, Miguel Angel and Servando interrupted the physical presence of a religious community in the camp of Nyaminrangwe. But now, their lives take on a new dimension and their message of Jesus Christ risen from the dead is proclaimed with even greater clarity.

After living through the experience of these last few weeks, I have the feeling that these four Brothers have passed beyond the canonical boundaries of the Marist Institute, and from now on will become part of the patrimony of the Church, of the consecrated life and of a multitude of people of goodwill who have encountered God upon hearing of these violent deaths.”

Who are Fernando, Miguel Angel, Servando and Julio?
Femando lived the greater part of his life far from his native Spain, in Chile where he had been a formator and provincial councillor. He had been in Zaire for less than a year. On Oct. 23, I asked him if he could continue six more months in Nyamirangwe and his response was spontaneous and surprisingly joyful. “I was expecting your invitation and I assure you that you have made me a great gift. Thank you sincerely for the good news.”
Miguel Angel lived 13 years in Argentina and 22 years in Ivory Coast where he had been district superior.
Julio had lived 14 years in Zaire and in May, I invited him to join the community of Nyamirangwe.
As for Servando, it was his first missionary experience. He was superior of the community of Bugobe. Like the other Brothers, he had undertaken this task for one year, but seeing the circumstances of the refugees living in the camps, he joyfully agreed to remain for another year. In his province of Bética, he was a provincial councillor and a member of the team for pastoral animation, and it was hoped that he would take up this work again upon his return.

What were they doing in a refugee camp?
In August 1994, the assembly and the district council of the Brothers of Rwanda took the decision to have a presence among the Rwandans. Within the country, three communities that centred their mission on the schools reopened. Six Brothers formed a new community at the service of the refugees outside the country. In view of the escalating difficulties faced by the refugees and the Rwandan Brothers themselves, the community was reinforced with three non-African Brothers. But as the dangers persisted, we decided to withdraw the Rwandan Brothers from the Bugobe community.
The more I came to know about this project, the greater was my admiration of the Brothers who launched it. They had the intuition to create an education project in perfect harmony with the thrust of our last General Chapter: integrated with the Church, in full collaboration with the lay people who shared the responsibilities, a project which responded to the local needs. And the animating force was the fraternal consecrated community which, with all the difficulties, had become a point of reference which inspired confidence. “When they see us, it’s as if they see God,” said Julio to his mother.

Who killed them and why?
There are some details concerning their deaths, which will never be known with any certainty. Others are very clear:
They were assassinated on Oct. 31 around 8 p.m. They were apparently shot. The authors of the crime were a group of the Interhamwe military (the former Rwandan government), who remained a few days in the Brother’s hut and prevented anyone from approaching, claiming that the Brothers were being detained because they were spies. The four bodies were recovered from the wastewater tank on Nov. 14 and have been buried at our novitiate house in Nyangezi.

Many reasons might be given for the assassination. For me only one is sure: they were killed because, in spite of the risks involved, they decided to stay at the side of these thousands of people who were adrift in the country, victims of panic and under pressure from those who wanted to use them as human shields in the conflict.

From Oct. 23, Brother Jeffrey Crowe and myself had been in daily telephone contact with them. Now we regret not having recorded our conversations with Servando: so calm, so full of faith, so clear-minded about the decision they had taken and the risks they were running. He feared being assassinated by the rebels who were approaching, and they also distrusted the violent element that had arrived at the camp towards the end of October.

To my insistent invitation to withdraw, their response was always the same: We cannot abandon those who are already abandoned by everyone. If you were here, you would do the same. We have decided to stay, if you will permit us. The morning of Oct. 31, Servando telephoned the general house and communicated this message: “Everyone has left the camp of Nyamirangwe. We are alone. We are expecting an attack at some time or other. If we do not call back this evening, it will be a bad sign. They will probably take the radio and the telephone. The sector is very agitated. The refugees fled without knowing where they were going, a sign that violent elements have infiltrated.” That very day I was able to speak twice with Servando. The last time was at 1:30 p.m. when he told me: “We are still alone, but perhaps the refugees will return because they don’t know where else to go. We are staying put because we don’t want to be associated with the military or with the other armed groups.”

Dear Brothers Seriando, Julio, Fernando and Miguel Angel
As Superior, I accepted your decision to stay, and with you I accepted the risks that you would run, but on receiving the news of your death, I felt a very deep sorrow. Sorrow for your families, and for the harm done to themselves by those who assassinated you. I am convinced you pardoned them because they did not know what they were doing. We Marists, forgive them and we pray for them.

I cannot hide from you the fact that, throughout all the agony of these last days, I have felt a great admiration for each of you and a great interior joy that you have been witnesses of Jesus of Nazareth in risking your lives, even to the point of a violent death. You remained in Bugobe through love of God and the refugees. Thank you for your generosity, and for your faith. Do not forget that the refugees continue to depend on your intercession because the international political authorities are showing slight interest in offering humanitarian aid and in bringing peace to the region of the Great Lakes.