Laudato Si’ Animator Steeven Kezamutima and Anne Marie Kundane on their wedding day, alongside Damaras Mungai, a friend of the couple.
Laudato Si’ Animator Steeven Kezamutima had attended countless weddings before he married Anne Marie Kundane last year in Nairobi. And at every wedding, he saw the hosts do the same thing: “Spend money for eating, drinking, spoiling people,” Kezamutima said.
But he always wondered, “What about Mother Earth?”
The consumer culture we live in entices couples to spend, spend, spend in order to create the “perfect day” for themselves and their guests. Dresses and suits, dinner and drinks, and dancing and bands can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’, “Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.”
Twenty-four years earlier, Saint John Paul II shared a similar sentiment in the encyclical Centesimus Annus: “Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it.”
Kezamutima and Kundane didn’t want to fall into the consumerism trap; they wanted to do something different for their wedding. Inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, they wanted their special day to celebrate their relationship and leave a legacy for our common home.
The couple from Burundi had a Laudato Si’ wedding. They planted papaya trees and invited their friends, those at the wedding and those watching at home, to join them in planting trees for the next generation to enjoy. The couple spent time in nature before and after the wedding. And during the wedding, they echoed the words of St. Francis of Assisi, joining others in singing, “Laudato Si’, O mi’ Signore.”
“We used our wedding… to communicate about Laudato Si’, to communicate the connection between love, families, and development, because we find all of these in the Laudato Si’ encyclical by Pope Francis,” Kezamutima said.
He and Kundane met in 2009 through SOS Children’s Villages, a non-governmental organization that helps orphaned, abandoned, and neglected children in 135 countries and territories. Kundane lost both of her parents and Kezamutima lost his father in the ethnic violence that plagued Burundi in the 1990s.
But the two bonded over their optimism for the world and their shared passions of music and faith.
Kezamutima, in fact, has long evangelized Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. In July 2015, just one month after the encyclical was published, Kezamutima attended Africa’s first Laudato Si’ conference held at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.
In 2018, he started encouraging everyone he knows to plant a tree on their birthday. He also began his work as the volunteer Program Manager in the Office of Justice Peace, and the Integrity of Creation for Franciscans Africa.
Two years later, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of the world, Kezamutima used the time to improve his leadership abilities. He enrolled in Laudato Si’ Movement’s free Laudato Si’ Animator training program, which equips participants with the tools they need to lead their community in caring for our common home.
“It was great to learn from experts and from people’s shared experience. It also helped me to realize that my church has a big role to play and can guide people towards a positive change,” Kezamutima said of the Laudato Si’ Animators program. “Listening to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are still key points for me, and the connection between human beings, creation, and God.”
The program encouraged him to use any and every opportunity to talk with others about Laudato Si’ and caring for God’s creation. “I always feel like anything can be really connected to promote Laudato Si’,” he said.
His wedding was no exception. On Facebook, he and his bride invited their friends from around the world, people in Austria, Kenya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda, not to give the happy couple a gift for their wedding, but instead to plant a tree in their name.
“I request you to plant a fruit on any celebration of your life [because] it is a concrete gift back to God and investment for next generations,” Kezamutima wrote.
At the start of the wedding, Father Peter Mbaro, and the late Father Peter Gichure, both of whom presided over the Mass, noted the couple’s intention of celebrating Laudato Si’. After the Mass, husband and wife planted 10 papaya trees. More than 100 papaya, avocado, tomato, cucumber, and mango trees were planted in their names around the world.
“This was the great achievement for our wedding,” Kezamutima said. “We used our wedding to connect with people. We used our wedding to connect with Mother Earth. We used our wedding also to connect with the Creator.”
The couple was married in May 2021, just before the 2021 Laudato Si’ Week. Now, nine months later, the papaya trees they planted have already started bearing fruit.
“I’m hoping that this is now going to become a tradition,” Kezamutima said. “Not only weddings but also other celebrations, birthdays, graduations. Anything anyone wants to celebrate, they can plant fruits and thank God.”
WATCH: Steeven Kezamutima and Anne Marie Kundane’s wedding