About Renew International
RENEW International, based in Plainfield, NJ, is a Catholic not-for-profit organization that has a 30-year record in effectively training and implementing small community efforts in dioceses and parishes around the world. Since its inception, the work of RENEW International has touched the lives of over 25 million individuals in thousands of parishes across six continents. RENEW’s process of bringing priests and parishioners together in gatherings to reflect, pray and take action has facilitated healing and reconciliation in countries such as Northern Ireland, Rwanda, South Africa and India.
Peacebuilding in Burundi
In 2004, RENEW International joined a collaborative process of peace-building in the central African republic of Burundi, working in concert with the Burundian bishops. Primarily Roman Catholic, the people of Burundi have suffered from a history of political instability and inter-ethnic violence that has resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 civilians. The aftermath of the genocide of Burundi of 1994 intensified poverty, devastated Church personnel and properties, and destroyed the infrastructure of the country.
In response, the bishops of Burundi embarked on an ambitious healing and reconciliation process. Their phased and multidisciplinary plan could become a model for other reconciliation efforts in Central Africa and beyond.
Answering the bishops’ invitation, RENEW staff members traveled to Burundi for an extensive series of meetings with diocesan staffs, parishes and people around the country. Workshops and materials focused on strengthening the small Christian communities, with an emphasis on developing leaders. Commented Sr. Marie Cooper, Burundi Project Manager for RENEW, “Everywhere we went, we sensed that the flame of hope is alive. In the midst of fear and deprivation, there is a yearning for peace, for harmony, for a future for the children.”
So in 2004, on the suggestion of Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, RENEW International joined in the collaborative process of peacebuilding in Burundi in concert with the Church of Burundi. Building on its experience in peacebuilding and reconciliation in other African countries, such as South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, RENEW focused its work at grassroots level.
Two staff persons prepared the workshops and all workshop materials and delivered them in the French language when working in Burundi. The local dioceses there provided translations of faith-sharing materials in the language of Kirundi for the small Christian communities and to gather the trainers and to provide hospitality for them during the workshops. Catholic Relief Services provided in-country transportation for our staff persons.
RENEW’s materials are geared toward creating a culture of peace and reconciliation where people learn to see the other not as an enemy to eliminate or fight, but as a brother or a sister to love through peaceful gestures. These small Christian communities foster not only the reading of the scriptures and faith sharing, but help to form bonds of trust among the members –one of the first steps towards building peace.
The Small Christian Communities also reflect on how they can live the gospel, as individuals, and as a community. Actions often include looking after widows and orphans, seeking better public services, addressing housing needs for those returning from exile, and other projects which take them beyond the life of their small community.
Despite difficulties and challenges, they were able to train new leaders and have them gather members of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (the basic unit of church in Burundi) in small groups of eight to twelve people for faith sharing. They also had “good news” stories of community projects and of reconciliation. One man, who had stolen a cow during the war, admitted the theft in his small group, was reconciled with the owner and offered restitution.
RENEW in Nigeria
RENEW International worked in Nigeria since 1992 in as many as 15 dioceses.
RENEW responded to the invitation of the bishops, then quickly begins to work with Diocesan leaders both clerical and lay. Training lay leaders at the grassroots level in the villages was the next key step. The process was very flexible and easily lent itself to adaptation and enculturation by the people. It was often the first time women were put into significant leadership positions. This leadership training was transferable to other social, economic and political arenas.
One of our dioceses was Bauchi, located in northern Nigeria, in an area that is predominantly Muslim. Bishop John Moore, SMA, Bishop of Bauchi, an Irish missionary who has worked in Nigeria for more than 39 years shared with RENEW’s staff on a recent visit to the United States: “We have various programs going on in the parishes – programs involving education, development and water well digging, etc, not just for Christians but for the whole community – Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Animates and everybody else. As we tackle the medical concerns of vaccinations and the like we are witnessing to Christ’s concerns for everyone…For example, in my village there was a Moslem fellow who had a child die in a well. We reached out to commiserate with him in this family tragedy. These kinds of actions tear down walls…We see that our people in the parishes are leaders. They are capable of much more. Without RENEW we wouldn’t be able to give our people tools they need to reach out with biblically-oriented social actions.”
Officially opening in February 2002 in Ibadan, The RENEW School of Evangelization was an endeavor which developed from the seeds planted by RENEW in the area. With the untiring support of Archbishop Felix A. Job, the RENEW School of Evangelization’s purpose was to train leaders for parish ministry. It became a center for resources for catechists and those leading small faith sharing communities. All of the training was done in English and its content included Scripture study, moral theology, the RENEW process, Mariology, Church doctrine, the catechism, and group dynamics for leaders. The fruit will be in the future - when these leaders get back into their parishes and are able to exercise their leadership and call others forth.
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