A day of joy and gratitude

Sunday, the 27th of August, was the long-awaited Clothing day for 5 Burundian novices of the Burundian delegation of the Swiss Province and 1 Kenyan novice of the South African Province. The Clothing took place in the parish Church of Mutumba, Burundi.  

Final Preperations

Days before, the hill of Mutumba which overlooks Lake Tanganyika, was filled with the joyful buzz of final preparations, with Schoenstatt Sisters, parishioners and members of the Schoenstatt Movement lending a hand. Wherever you looked, there were groups of people, interspersed with Sisters, all busy with some task – either up at the Sisters’ compound where the Sisters have their various houses and shrine, or a 5-minute walk down the sandy road where the parish church and catechetical centre are situated. The circular parish church was decorated with hundreds of meters of yellow, white and blue material and magnificent flower arrangements, likewise the nearby hall where the lunch for 250 invited guests would take place, such as the families of the novices, priests and honorary guests. The kitchen behind the hall was filled with huge pots and stacks of food. Another corner was occupied with Sisters and girls washing and counting the crockery and cutlery.  Outside the hall was a grassy courtyard with a big decorated awning with more tables and chairs to accommodate the rest of the guests. Further up the hill, the Schoenstatt Shrine was adorned with a beautiful arch of flowers amidst woven palm fronds framing the door. The altar area was decorated with a stunning flower arrangement of white agapanthus, red anthuriums and variegated sisal leaves, all arranged to form a crown that extended from the windows on either side right up to the tabernacle. Schoenstatt flags and banners decorated the way the novices would walk from the Noviciate to the Shrine and then on to the parish church. Despite the mammoth task of such a celebration, everyone was joyful and quite calm. There was time for laughter and enjoying one another’s company and contribution.  

Joyful Anticipation

On Saturday afternoon, when the novices and Sisters who would be involved in various aspects of the ceremony went to the parish church to practise, the church was filled with various groups, busy with their preparations. The choir was hard at work practising, there was a young man up in the supporting beams of the roof, helping to fasten the material that was being used to decorate the church and Sisters arranging it against the walls. Outside the church, was a group of young boys and girls who were practising their liturgical dance. The boys were dressed in goatskin headdresses and carrying spears, the girls in colourful dresses and headbands. Everyone was looking forward to the next day.

3-day journey from Kenya

Although this is the dry season in Burundi when there is no rain and the sun shines brightly every day with the temperature hovering constantly around 30° C, Divine Providence sent a gentle shower on Saturday evening which cooled things slightly and washed off the dust as a final preparation for the day. The Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Most of the families of the novices had already arrived the evening before but a number of buses had come from Bujumbura and surrounding areas bringing more guests. A bus of 33 Kenyan family members, friends and Schoenstatt members had bravely made the   3-day trip from Kenya, through Uganda and Rwanda to Burundi. Everyone was in good voice and spirits as there had been singing accompanied by drums on the buses coming to the celebration. Many people from the surrounding hills and valleys had also come to share in the joy and graces of such a day.

The day had finally arrived

The novices had gathered in the beautifully decorated Father room in the novitiate and then at 8.45am they gathered around a big photo of Father which stood at the beginning of the path they would walk to the Shrine.  They processed, escorted by Sr. M Virginie, their Novice mistress and Sr M Joanna the General Superior, the provincials of the Swiss and South African provinces, Sr. M Gloria and Sr. M Joanne, Sr. Mariya, the delegation Superior and the councillors of the delegation Sr. Pia-Marit, Sr. M Lisette, Sr. M Emmanuela and Sr. M Mathilde, as well Sr. M Iona, a provincial councillor of the South African province and Superior of the new filiation in Kenya. A large crowd had already gathered at the Shrine, eager to see the novices and to escort them on the walk down to the parish church. As the novices appeared, there was a murmur of joy and wonder to see them in their long white dresses and bridal veils. The novices and their escort entered the Shrine where they knelt in silence, as we waited for the priests and the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bujumbura who would be conducting the Holy Mass and Clothing ceremony, to arrive. Outside, the people sang Marian hymns and prayed and explanations of Schoenstatt and the Clothing ceremony were given.  The Vicar General arrived at 9.45 am. The novices sang a hymn and prayed a short prayer and the General Vicar gave a blessing. Then all the faithful lead the procession followed by the novices with 6 little girls dressed in white going immediately before them. The sisters came behind the novices and the priests brought up the rear. A choir sang along in the procession and created a joyful, solemn atmosphere. Many people lined the road to watch and wave and join in the singing.

Crowds of people came

The parish church was filled and people crowded around outside as well with about 4000 people attending. The atmosphere during the celebration was one of profound reverence and shared joy. The liturgical rituals and prayers woven throughout the ceremony were deeply moving and spiritually uplifting and everything was accompanied by dance, drumming and song. The Church is built in a circle with the altar at the centre under a high dome which lets in light onto the altar area. The liturgical dancers were stationed in a ring around the altar so that everyone in the church could see the dancing. I admired how they remembered all the steps and hand movements for the many dances they performed, expressing with graceful hand and body movements what the words of the liturgy were saying.

Receiving the dress of the Sisters of Mary

The highlight of the celebration was the moment when the young novices stepped up to the altar to receive the dress, veil, belt, medal and candle. Sr M Joanna gave each dress in turn to the General Vicar who then gave it to the novice with the appropriate prayer being said. The novices then processed to the sacristy where they had to change very quickly as the General Vicar wanted them to be present for the prayers of the faithful. One of our sisters happened to notice the reaction of a little girl amongst the families of the novices. She had seemed unconcerned to see her Aunt (novice) clothed in white as a bride but her jaw dropped and she was absolutely stunned when she saw her return as a Sister of Mary. I think this is probably the feeling of many who saw the sudden transformation of someone they knew as a young woman to a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary. Naturally, the young novices were radiant with joy and this served to encourage the entire congregation to erupt with joy.

Clapping and singing

The thanksgiving was one great praise-giving of joy and gratitude with the entire congregation clapping and singing and dancing along, as they expressed their thanks to our heavenly Father for the vocation of these 6 young women who had heard and responded to His call. The petitions expressed thanks to the parents of the novices for  their generosity in allowing their children to follow this call, for all who had guided them in their following of their vocation as well as for all those who had contributed towards and prepared the celebration.

Procession to the Shrine

After the Holy Mass which was about 3 hours, the novices and the congregation processed again to the Shrine where the novices sang a hymn and prayed a prayer and the General Vicar gave the closing blessing. They then stood in front of the Shrine with the beautiful flower arch together with the 6 little girls dressed in white. Each one had prayed for one of the novices and had brought a little gift for her. A group photo was taken and then the novices joined their families and friends who could now personally congratulate them. The groups then moved off to the hall at the catechetical centre behind the parish church for the festive dinner

The drums continued to play

During the dinner, a number of speeches were given, interspersed with some very graceful dance groups. Amongst the speakers was Sr M Joanna, our General Superior, a family father who spoke as a representative of the families, one of the novices who spoke her thanks on behalf of the novices, one of the Kenyan pilgrims who spoke for the Kenyan group, the parish priest who said a word and one of the honorary guests, a member of the local government who also spoke. All in all, it was a day of unmitigated joy, gratitude and thanksgiving and the novices could not stop smiling!  As the packed buses went down the winding sandy road to the tarred road at the bottom and back to Bujumbura, one could hear the drums and the hymn singing continuing, a fitting witness to the joy and blessing of this day.

Sr M .Joanne