Jodi Mikalachki




During Burundi's 1993-2005 civil war, students at Buta Minor Seminary were ordered at gunpoint to separate by ethnicity—Hutus over here, Tutsis over there! They chose instead to join hands and affirm their common identity as children of God. The forty students killed were quickly proclaimed martyrs of fraternity. Their costly solidarity defused the cry for reprisals and continues to inspire Burundians and others on the path of reconciliation. Drawing on fifty interviews with survivors, parents of martyrs, neighbors, religious leaders and other Burundian intellectuals, this essay examines how Burundian Catholics understand the significance of the Buta martyrdom to their country and the world. The Buta seminarians' sacrificial witness to fraternity demonstrates the effectiveness of enculturated African Catholicism in mobilizing youth to resist genocidal manipulation and transform its legacy of division and trauma. In its resistance to political violence, the Buta testimony also re-aligns traditional warrior virtues with a nonviolent masculinity rooted in fraternal love rather than aggression. This passage from politicized aggression to fraternal love is of particular interest in light of Francis' 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, and its call for the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. The ongoing story of the Buta martyrdom also contributes to contextualized understandings of violence and its transformation in contemporary Africa. The precarious vulnerability of the young Buta martyrs emerges as a virtue in their story, suggesting that the perennial fragility of peace in Burundi is not necessarily a handicap in transforming cycles of violence, but perhaps a resource.



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