While they were still in Rome for the preparation, the five Friars assigned to go to Rwanda gave themselves a “missionary plan”:
To live the Franciscan fraternity for others by listening to and serving them for a reciprocal conversion;
To be in communion with the local Church, living our Franciscan charism in poverty and service;
To accept a small parish, in a poor area.
These were: Br. Anselmo Doglio, Br. Giacomo Bini, Br. Raoul de Buisseret, Br. Vjeko Curic, and Br. Paolo Lombardo. The first three arrived in Rwanda on 21st February 1983, and Br. Vjeko and Br. Paolo arrived in August. Just a few weeks later, Br. Paolo had to leave because the altitude was not suitable for his health.
Mons. Perraudin, Bishop of Kabgayi, offered them all what was necessary to learn the language and to enter into the Rwandan culture. He gave them two possibilities: to go to Musambira, a small centre without church or house with about 25,000 inhabitants, or to remain in Kivumu, on a small hill-top, closer to the city of Gitarama, with an old church, but without a house, with 10,000 inhabitants. The Friars chose Kivumu.
Main parish church in Kivumu.
While they were studying the language in Kigali and often living in the parish near Cyeza, they had a house built with the help of the population. They occupied it in January 1984 and, on the 7th October of that year the parish of “St. Mary of the Angels” in Kivumu was officially erected. The first pastor was Br. Raoul, who came from the neighbouring Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo) and had some experience of missions in Africa.
A new volunteer. Br. Pablo Bétancourt, arrived in August 1984, but he also left a few months later (10th January 1985). Two young Philippinos arrived on 28th December 1984, but one left a week later and the other left a month afterwards. Four Friars remained in Rwanda.
Friars working currently in Rwanda:
Br. Vjeko wished to study medicine in Rwanda in order to take care of the sick and poor, but the local authorities would not permit him. Br. Giacomo dedicated himself to the promotion of vocations. Br. Anselmo, the eldest, assured a presence in the House and assisted the Poor Clares – who had begun in Kamonyi in 1982 - and the other religious communities. The Franciscan Sisters of the Kingdom of Jesus, a Belgian foundation, but from Zaire, where they were called “The Sisters of Sola”, arrived in Kivimu in 1986.
In the meantime, through multiple contacts with the young, two groups of Franciscan laity, called “Companions of St. Francis” were born. Many young people wrote to the Friars asking to become Franciscans (during the first three years they received more than one hundred requests!), but the first group of Postulants, five only, was only received on the 29th September 1985.
They opened a second fraternity in the north, in the locality of Nyinawimana, about 18 km from the city of Byumba, in 1986. They built a mud hut, like those of the inhabitants, with their own hands and the help of the candidates. They cultivated the land like everyone else and they had the pastoral care of an out-station. The Postulants were brought to Nyinawimana, while the novitiate was opened in Kivumu.
Meanwhile, after the departure of Br. Raoul, who returned to Zaire, Br. Vjeko became pastor. He built a new church with the catechuminate and undertook different initiatives for the social development of the population. A third fraternity was opened in the south, in the district of Mbazi, not far from the city of Butare in 1990. This was the House of Formation for the temporary professed who continued formation and studies.
On 7th April 1994 the country was struck by the terrible tragedy of genocide through a civil war which caused about a million dead in three months and forced the whole population to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. Br. Georges Gashugi, a Rwandan Friar of the first group which was being prepared for solemn profession, was among the victims there. When war broke out he was in the region of Gikongoro to live the experience of a fraternity inserted among the poor people of the mountains. Conscious of the danger in which Br. Georges in particular found himself, being of the Tutsi ethnic group, the Friars of Mbazi left on 18th April with a small truck, escorted by military, to go and withdraw the Friars who were in the mountains.
On the return journey, on being stopped at a road block by an infuriated crowd of people, Br. Georges was recognised. He was physically pulled from the protection of his confreres and barbarically killed at the side of the road. Br. Georges had prayed a lot for reconciliation between the two Rwandan ethnic groups and before dying had wished to put on the Franciscan habit as a sign of his new belonging and of his commitment, but he was prevented from doing so. He was the first Franciscan seed sown in Rwandan land.
The other Rwandan Friars who were in Mbazi succeeded in fleeing at the beginning of June, hidden in a long convoy of the Red Cross which was going to Burundi, and they took refuge in the Novitiate House in Mbarara, Uganda. The House at Nyinawimana was destroyed while two small presences remained in Kivumu and Butare.
On the 31st January 1998, Br. Vjeko Curic – who had done so much for reconstruction of the country and for reconciliation between families – also became a victim of an attack and died, martyr to solidarity and reconciliation. A Croatian from Bosnia, Br. Vjeko had arrived in Rwanda with the first group. Animated by a great missionary spirit for the Rwandan people, whose language he had dominated well, he had saved many Tutsi during the genocide and had fed many others when they were locked up in sorts of concentration camps.
When the first storm passed, always moved by the preoccupation of helping the poor and those who were in danger, he saved others of the opposite ethnic group, who were easy targets for revenge, and he helped the people to be reconciled, especially through rebuilding the destroyed houses with the collaboration of the neighbours. But Br. Vjeko had already become, for the new authorities, an uncomfortable witness who was going against the current. He was, therefore, eliminated by someone, hired by others, who had himself been helped by Br. Vjeko to reconstruct his home and life.