Abrupt goodbyes

Last saturday I attended the funeral of Eugene Munyandinda, a Rwundese priest that lived in my old town for the last 12 years. His priest studies had been supported by the priest of the main church of Deinze and Eugene had come to visit after he had finished his studies.

In the genocide of Rwanda in 1994 he managed to survive the torturing and killing that was going on but the rest of his family had been killed. After a difficult journey he managed to arrive in Deinze as a refugee. Soon he integrated in the city, started helping in church and started learning some Dutch, nevertheless with a huge accent.
Soon he became a well known face downtown with his big smile and on weekends dressed with the colors of the local football club. He also sang in the youth choir and taught us some African songs to sing.

Some years later he had discoverd that 2 of his brothers children were still alive and in a orphanage in Rwanda. He brought them to Belgium and looked after them which caused the necessary discussions: can a catholic priest raise children ..... but with his stubbornness he ignored all the discussions, advice, ... and took them in his home and with the help of friends and some nuns he raised them in Belgium.

After 11 years of being assistant priest in the main church in Deinze, he became priest in the neighbour town Olsene. He was welcomed there with a bit village party and his smile was shining as ever before. I remember we had to sing for his inauguration there since there was no choir yet. In the last year he actually flourished there in his own parish, the people got used to his accent as we did the years before in Deinze and he managed to get a big choir founded there.

2 weeks ago, he abruptly died in a car accident. Although I didn't know Eugene that well personally, his death came as a shock to me. I guess you never expect anybody to die so suddenly, so abruptly without any warning. Even though he probably did not know that I was present, even though no family could be there to see my presence at his funeral, even though I knew the crowd would be very big, I felt it was only appropriate to go to his funeral for a last goodbye. With the youth choir of Deinze we sang the Rwandese 'Our father' that he taught us.

I didn't expect that I would be so touched by the funeral which was quite impressive. Indeed, lots of people from Deinze and lots of people of his new parish were present proving how well integrated and accepted he was in our society there. I guess everybody loved his good humour and big smile which helped us forgive him his little faults he had as anybody else. All local organisations were present, but also many many Rwandese friends came over: the African community in Brussels with whom Eugene always stayed very very close in touch and who understood what he had gone through during the genocide and also his only remaining brother living in congo and friend priests from Rwanda. It became a big bilingual funeral in Flemish and French with 7 priests (3 Belgian and 4 Rwandese), even his Rwandese bisshop was present.
He would have been so proud at his choir in his parish.

Most people, so do i, feel most with Didier and Diane, his foster children, nephew and niece. Can you imagine what they've been through in their short lives already. It seems so hugely unfair that they are alond once more and have to somehow start over again. I don't know yet what will happen with them, right now lots of Rwandese friends were staying over and also a nun who has always helped the family from the beginning was staying with them, but a more permanent solution will have to be found. They are not helpless anymore at 16 and 14 but they are still very vulnerable.

During service I had to think about our multicultural society. The service was so beautiful and it all merged into each other nicely. I was sitting there next to 10 African ladies and I could only admire their beauty and style and I thought we should all interact so much more. It really adds something, we truly can learn from each other despite many prejudices that might be even true. The whole thing was so much in contrast with the racist murders that took place in Antwerp a couple of weeks before. Or other racism that is truly growing in Belgium. I hope that Eugenes death and funeral makes some other people think as well. A couple of hours after his funeral some street kids got into a discussion and fight with an adult on a bus and they kicked him to death. Today another shocking event happened in Belgium : the corpses of 2 little missing girls have been found back murdered after 3 weeks of searching. They say that the world has in fact become a safer place than decades ago, but that our media focuses much more on that type of events. I sure hope so because Belgium has gone through some shocks of that type shocks in the last 2 months. It's truly unbelievable, but I do still feel very safe in this country. I do still believe thses are isolated cases.

Comments

Allie said…
Ellen,

Your tribute to Mr. Munyandinda is very heartfelt and honest. I am sorry to have never gotten the opportunity to meet this man as he certainly seems like an inspiration. To have dealt with the horrors that he experienced, yet he continued on with his faith and forever giving to other people's lives makes him one of a kind.

Thank you for sharing your grief and I know that your rememberance of this great man allows him to be honored as he should be.