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Starting Point

Reflecting the life of Jesus among the abandoned

On Oct. 3, Br. Antonio Bargiggia, 43, was stopped by four men at a roadblock in central Burundi. One of the assailants approached the car, put a shotgun to the missionary’s head, and shot and killed him.

Bargiggia was a member of the Friends of the Poor, a congregation from the Milan diocese. For 20 years he had lived in Burundi with the poorest of the poor. For the last three years, Bargiggia was project director in Buterere for Jesuit Relief Service Burundi.

In May, Bargiggia wrote the following reflection on his work. It is used with permission from Jesuit Refugee Service Burundi bulletin Ikiraro.

I’ve been asked to write a little piece on our life as “Friends of the Poor” here in Buterere. I’m going to try, even if it is difficult to put into words what we live each day.

I have lived for nine years in this area on the outskirts of Bujumbura, trying to share at all times in the lives of the poor people of the town. With another brother, a Burundian, we live here in a little house -- No. 13, on 20th Avenue, the last of the area. We have many neighbors, nearly all Muslims, with whom we get on very well, and they help us as much as we help them.

It’s not that we actually do much for them in the sense of addressing their needs but we share in their joys, their sorrows, and in their times of fear and anguish. All this unites us and brings down the barriers that can exist between black and white, between one religion and another. I am -- quite simply -- a resident in Buterere who goes to the well for water and who runs away with the people in the night when the shooting comes.

This “presence” allows me to approach everyone. Young people come to our house, and we have a personal relationship with them where trust is reciprocal. We are able to help them with their daily difficulties and to open their eyes to serious problems like AIDS and moral principles, etc., helping them to lead true and serious lives.

To our house comes a poor woman whose drunken husband ill-treats her, or a mother who weeps at the loss of her son. They know they can confide in us and be understood. It is easy for us to visit someone old or someone sick and to bring a smile with us. We also look, in so far as we are able, for ways to offer help to those who have nothing to eat, or to those who are sick with AIDS and who need special attention.

The community of “Friends of the Poor” began not so long ago in Milan, founded by a diocesan priest, Cesare Volonte, who is still alive. Our charism is that of living the gospel among the poorest and most abandoned people, trying to live a life like that of Jesus in the simplicity of Nazareth. And that’s why we chose to be in the area of Buterere and why we live in a house like the people here.

Prayer, poverty and charity to those who have the greatest need are the guiding principles of our presence; manual work and weariness make us feel closer to these poor people and help us to understand their suffering and the difficulties they have to endure.

This choice to share their lives with them comes from a deep conviction that religious life should, as far as possible, reflect the life of Jesus, in order to be able to transmit goodness and love to the world.

In our smallness we want to be this reflection for the people of our area.

Thank you.


National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2000