On Sunday, the 17th April 2016, at around 13.30 in the afternoon, our confrere Pedro Burgos López passed away peacefully in St. Joseph’s Nursing Home at Evere (Bruxelles). Fr. Jan Anthonissen was present; his faithful guardian angel for months, Sr. Doecita Van der Ven had just slipped out for a few minutes.
Pedro was born on the 22nd February 1929 at Burgos in Spain. His father was a sales representative. Pedro was the last but one child in a family of seven children. After secondary school, he began Architectural studies at the University of Madrid. Here, he met Fr. Charles Merry (+1986), a Belgian White Father who was doing missionary promotion work in Spain at the time. He entered the Society’s Philosophy House at Thy-Le-Chateau in Belgium in 1949. He then went to the novitiate in Maison Carrée, Algeria in 1952. He took his Missionary Oath in Thibar, Tunisia on the 26th June 1956 and he was ordained priest in Carthage on the 21st April 1957.
Pedro was appointed to the Diocese of Ngozi in Burundi in October 1958. He learnt the language in the Parish of Muhanga. He spent some time in Ruganza before becoming superior in Karusi in July 1961. In August 1963, Pedro was appointed to Spain, as chaplain to the White Sisters in Logroño. From 1966 to 1968, he became superior of the Africanum at Logroño. When the Centre moved to Madrid, Pedro moved with it retaining the post of superior. He was to stay there until 1970. During this time, he also served on the Provincial Council.
Pedro was able to return to Burundi in April 1971. He was appointed curate at Giteranyi in the Diocese of Muhinga but he only stayed there for a few months. He returned to the Diocese of Ngozi officially as curate in Ijene but in fact, he ministered to the Batwa people at Busiga. In fact, Pedro was searching for something more. For many years, he dreamed of living the ideal of the “preferential option for the poor” lived in a concrete way of a real insertion and closeness to people. He had in fact discovered a soul mate in the person of Sr. Doecita van der Ven of the Dames de Marie who was inspired by the same spiritual ideal and who dreamed of the same missionary project. She was working at Busiga not far from Bunzogi. From now on, they would work closely together. There was nothing surprising in their eyes that the poorest of the poor in Burundian society were the Batwa people. At the beginning of 1974, they installed themselves in Gatara and looked for ways to get closer to these people, the renowned potters of the country. Not all understood this option. After a year, Pedro had to return to Spain for health reasons. He took advantage of his stay, by following a course in ceramics! He organised an exposition of his works in Madrid with great success. In fact, some enterprises offered him a job! They did not know that his life was destined for elsewhere. Always pushed by the same dream of living among the poor, Pedro and Doecita left for Ecuador in Latin America. The money obtained from the sale of his ceramics in Madrid paid for their voyage and for them to begin a new project. They worked among the Indians in the community of Nizag in the Diocese of Riobamba. The Bishop was Leonidas Eduardo Proaño Villalba, a well-known advocate of Liberation Theology. Our two intrepid missionaries even passed a couple of days in jail at one stage. They stayed in Latin America until 1982.
In November 1982, Pedro and Doecita returned to Africa. They began working among the pygmies of Imbau in the Diocese of Wamba in the Ituri region. They were to work there for 15 years. In 1986, they invited volunteers to join them at Imbau. Two young Belgian men and two young Spanish women took up the invitation to join them on their project. A confrere, Santiago Rodriguez who was working in Aba (Diocese of Mahagi) asked to do his sabbatical year as an immersion experience in this same project and he joined them also. So, there was a beautiful team of seven people living a unique and unforgettable experience. The project took wings and a second residence was opened in another camp about 15 kilometres away. In the end, the project reached as far as Bayenga. In this way, the Imbau project, which started more or less on the margins of the Ituri Region of the White Fathers, became a priority project for the Region in 1987. In 1988, the four volunteers left having finished their contract. Fr. Santiago Rodriguez returned to Spain to receive medical treatment and Pedro and Doecita remained alone with the Imbau pygmies. The late Fr. Felix Fobe (+2003) joined them for a while. Their terrain of apostolate extended over two parishes. However, they had a different conception about how the pygmies should be integrated into the parish apostolate and this drew them into conflict with the Bishop of Wamba. The project ended in 1998.
Pedro and Doecita returned to Belgium where the Dames de Marie (Sr. Doecita’s Congregation) was engaged in the apostolate of Small Christian Communities with a particular emphasis on the poor. A first insertion into a sheltered community comprising about 30 small individual residences destined for ill people, those who were seropositive, living with depression or fragile in other ways along with some support personnel did not come to anything. They moved to rue Dupont in Schaerbeek near the Gare Du Nord in Bruxelles. It is a very poor area, as multiracial as possible, counting many Muslims. In our WF slang, we call this an ‘apostolate to the marginalised.’ Officially, Pedro was a Prison Chaplain, but he worked at a Poverello Centre in Bruxelles where he did the washing up and served meals to the poor. He took art in meetings of the local area as a simple citizen. He became well known in the neighbourhood for his listening skills, his generous gestures and his compassionate heart. What was far less well known was his artistic talent. Pedro expressed his deepest feeling by painting. Very often, they were just small pictures where using colour he expressed the light that was within him. We should not be surprised that he used only the cheapest of material!
Pedro lived this hidden but committed life for 17 years. We saw him regularly at Recollection days at rue Linthout, our community feasts such as Holy Thursday and the Jubilee feasts. We knew him to be always faithful to the golden thread of his life, solidarity with the beloved of Jesus, the poorest of the poor.
At the beginning of May 2015 after a brief time in Spain, Pedro fell seriously ill. When his state of health got worse in September, he was welcomed into our community of St. Joseph in Evere. He slowly declined physically, he began to lose possession of his faculties, an impoverishment that he lived and accepted. Finally, he returned to Jesus. Pedro was the suffering servant, the passionate prophet, the ascetic, the artist, the missionary, and poor among the poor. We thank you for the example you showed as a committed missionary.
The farewell liturgy took place on Friday 22nd April 2016 at 10.15 in the Main Chapel of the St. Joseph Nursing Home at Evere. After a small meal, his body was brought to Varsenare for burial in our plot as he himself had asked and being faithful to the WF tradition of being buried where one dies.
Jozef Vleugels and Santiago Rodríguez