This Tutsi Catholic priest was one of many children born to a family in the parish of Bukeye, part of the Bujumbura diocese. Baptized at the age of ten, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1952. Although he served in many capacities, he is best remembered as the parish priest of Makebuko, where he spent twenty-five years.
Father Gahebe had several personal qualities that marked him not only as an exemplary priest but also as a true son of Burundi. First and above all, he was a man of God, totally devoted to his ministry and to his flock. A man of deep prayer in his personal life, he was able to form and train others in the way of prayer, both private and public. Forgetful of himself, he lived to serve others. Of delicate health himself, he did not hesitate to provide transportation for the sick regardless of the hour, particularly in urgent cases. He would remain with the person who was suffering, refusing to leave until he knew that treatment was being provided.
Having lived through a particularly dramatic period of Burundi’s history- from April to June 1972- he proved himself to be a true priest who transcended ethnic rivalries, serving all without distinction and vigorously combating injustice. For example, in his parish, the director of the elementary school was a Hutu, a man whom Father Gahebe had known for years and in whom he had complete confidence. Father Gahebe obtained from the provincial governor the guarantee that, in view of his exemplary conduct, the school director would be left alone. One night, however, the director was arrested and sent to the central prison in Giga where prisoners were known to receive summary trial and swift execution. Father Gahebe leaped into a car the morning after the arrest and went to Giga, where he demanded an audience with the governor. This official made an immediate inquiry into the situation, and once he had established the facts, granted the director his freedom. Amidst great rejoicing, Father Gahebe brought him back to his home. The director eventually became a deputy in the National Assembly and always retained a deep veneration for the priest who had saved him from death.
“Padri Karoli,” as his flock had nicknamed Father Gahebe, was deeply involved in both pastoral activities and development issues. The expression, “Amasaka n’amasakaramentu,” which means “Sorghum and Sacraments” in the Kirundi language, describes the union of temporal and spiritual concerns. Father Gahebe lived this double dimension with ease, occupying himself with numerous construction projects, breathing life into cooperatives that sold local products, supervising the education of many young people, and caring for the sick, particularly those whose illnesses demanded special treatments.
“Padri Karoli” was transferred from his parish in Makebuko in 1990, leaving behind a flock that was greatly saddened at his departure. In serenity and peace, he passed from this life on November 5, 1992 at the hospital in Bubanza.
Marc Nsanzurwimo, M.Afr.
N. Contran and G. Kadjemenje, Cibles: 235 Prêtres Africains Tués (Kinshasa: Afriquespoir, 2002).
Received in 2004, this article is the research work of Fr. Marc Nsanzurwimo, M.Afr., who studied under Fr. Francis Oborji, Professor of Missiology at the Urbaniana Pontifical University in Rome, Secretary General of the International Association of Catholic Missiologists (IACM), and consulting member of DACB. Translation from the original French in 2012 by Mrs. Elizabeth Mullen.