October 6 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

8-MISSIO-UGANDA

Three keys: memory, fidelity and prayer

Missio Scotland’s communications officer GERARD GOUGH looks at what makes Faith flourish in Uganda, where people keep the memory of their martyrs alive -BY GERARD GOUGH

When Pope Francis visited Uganda in 2015, in his homily at a Mass for priests and religious in St Mary’s Cathedral in Kampala, he reflected upon three key points that he felt has seen the Faith flourish in the country: memory, fidelity and prayer.

 

Memory

The Holy Father’s trip to the African country came one year after the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of the Ugandan Martyrs. St Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions were killed by King Mwanga in the 1880s, alongside 23 Anglican converts to Christianity, for refusing to recant their Faith. They were canonised on October 18, 1964, by Pope Paul VI in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis told the congregation in St Mary’s Cathedral that the greatest treasure of the memory of the Ugandan people is the witness of their martyrs.

“As I said to the young people today, through the veins of young people and all Ugandan people is flowing the blood of the martyrs,” the Pope said. “Please don’t lose the memory of this great seed. Ask for the grace never to forget but to keep alive their memory.”

The Pope added that in order to keep the memory of the martyrs alive, it must live on in the faithful witness of priests and religious today as they are ‘part of the future glory [of the Church].’ All clergy and religious are called ‘to be witnesses just as the martyrs laid down their lives for the Gospel.’

Unfortunately, as the Missio Scotland team found out on their travels, martyrdom for the Faith is not something that has been confined to a bygone age in the country.

On visiting St John the Evangelist Minor Seminary in Kiburara, in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, we were made acutely aware of that fact by the seminary’s rector, Fr Francis Kojo Kule. He explained to us that the school community had been the victim of a harrowing attack by Muslim extremists in 1997, which saw farmers and eight students from the school killed.

Many of the students were caught in the gunfire that night—one of whom survived his injuries and is now a priest. In total, 19 students were kidnapped by the extremists, with 11 eventually escaping to safety. Some suffered severe trauma in the wake of the attacks and the school worked to help them find employment in a brick factory after they had left school, to help bring some stability to their lives.

Despite this, and the financial challenges that the seminary has faced, as it approaches its 25th anniversary next year, Fr Francis explained how the students remain steadfast in their commitment to serve God and the Church in their country.

“Next year the seminary marks its 25th anniversary,” Fr Francis said. “So what has it given to the Church since its inception? This seminary has produced 20 priests, which makes up around half of the clergy of the Diocese of Kasese. So it has done an enormous job in terms of evangelisation and many of our former students are now parish priests.

“Of the staff at the seminary, I’m the only one who studied elsewhere, the rest are people who came here to study and they are now involved in the formation of younger students who are following in their footsteps. So the seminary has contributed a lot to this diocese.

“On another happy note, more than 3,000 students have passed through this seminary. Many of them are serving the government or the civil sector; many work in the bank; some of them are in the police and the armed forces and so on. But one thing that comes out is that they are offering themselves in service. These are people that are trusted by the community. So we are proud of all the students that have passed through this seminary—even if they didn’t make it to the priesthood, they are still serving the people of God in various different ways.”

Missio Scotland has had a direct involvement with St John’s Seminary by supplying the pipeline that brings fresh clean water for the students there from the nearby river. Our partners in the Pontifical Mission Societies have also helped to erect many of the buildings that house the different classrooms, dormitories and a canteen, something for which the seminary’s vice rector, Fr Morris Grace Lhusenge, expressed his gratitude.

“I find it fulfilling to see that there are so many young people following in our footsteps in terms of becoming priests and working in the Vineyard of the Lord,” Fr Morris said. “But as you are giving to us here you should know that you are not only supporting the Church in Uganda, or in Africa, but the Church as a whole. When you support this seminary, you are supporting the Church as a whole.”

 

Fidelity

In his message to Ugandans, Pope Francis also reflected on fidelity and the need for clergy and religious to be faithful to the memory of the martyrs as well as to their own vocations. One way to show this fidelity, the Holy Father suggested, is to keep the missionary spirit alive within the country of Uganda. Indeed, many of the priests, religious, seminarians and novices were not only conscious of this spirit, but explained how it not only inspired them but also fuels their vocation to this day.

At a vibrant and Faith-filled ordination of two priests and three deacons in Kasese, vocations director for the diocese Fr Vincent Muhindo spoke to us of the importance of the early missionaries to the country.

“Missionaries who brought the Faith here were very exemplary in their ways of life,” Fr Vincent said. “They were from Europe and the fact that they had moved from very far away to here, from what you would call a comfort zone, and they came to live with us here in a very remote area where there is no electricity or water—imagine how that would have been 100 years ago—gave the people here encouragement as it showed the spirit that moves in people. And they did not only treat the soul, they also gave social services to treat the body. So they gave us our first schools—which are now the best schools in the country—schools built by missionaries and run by the Church. And medical services, hospitals and food.

“That gave a sign that God as we know it is a God who takes care of the human being in their totality, both the soul and the body.

“So many young men want to become priests and many young girls who want to become religious because they look to the good examples of our missionaries.

“And now we have native priests—like those ordained today—and religious and you can see what an honour that is to both the families and communities. You see that in the joy at this ordination, ­people are so happy because a priest has come from among us.”

Their new parishioners in attendance were clearly imbued with the missionary spirit the Holy Father was talking about, as evidenced in their gift of two motorcycles to the two new priests, which will allow them to travel freely throughout the largely rural and mountainous diocese and minister to the people. The seminarians we spoke with after the ordination were similarly aware of the missionary spirit, not only in the words and deeds of missionaries in times past, but also in their own impending ministry. One of the young men, Mark Bwambale, even expressed a desire to one day come to Scottish shores to serve the Universal Church.

“I know that there are not as many vocations in Scotland,” Mr Bwambale said. “But if there are people of goodwill who could help us to become priests, then we are ready to serve as missionaries, even though we are diocesan priests.

“Our bishop is open to that. He said that he would be willing to allow priests to go to Scotland. We are ready to move anywhere as long as we are feeding God’s flock. So if people in Scotland can help us, then we will help to feed their flock too and evangelise there and elsewhere, not only in Scotland, but in other places where vocations might be lower.”

 

Prayer

The witness of fidelity and memory, however, is only made possible—as Pope Francis noted—through prayer.

“If a religious or a priest stops praying, because he or she has too much work, then he or she has begun to lose their memory and to lose their fidelity,” the Pope said.

In speaking to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix in Ggogonya—on the outskirts of Kampala—I am certain that their commitment to prayer will remain steadfast, because not only did they speak of having grown up in prayerful families, they had also been exposed to prayerful examples from religious in their own diocese that often proved to be the catalyst for their own vocation.

“My father was my inspiration,” Sr Jane Frances Nnantamu said. “He was key to my vocation because of his dedication to Christian practices and prayers. All my family were like that and they nourished my vocation.”

Sr Sarah Nnaamala added: “I loved my father so much. We used to pray together. I often used to sit at his feet too, especially at night. We didn’t have electricity at home so we used small lanterns to light the house. I enjoyed sitting at my father’s feet because at night time I could see a star through the roof and for me that was God’s eye.”

Sr Maria Nabakka said she first felt the call when she was very young.

“Two Sisters from the Daughters of Mary came to visit my family and it was the first time I’d seen a Sister coming into a local house like ours so I was impressed,” she said. “One of the two Sisters was called Maria, which I thought was a miracle—I didn’t think that they could have names like mine! The time they visited it had rained so the Sisters’ shoes made marks on the ground. When they left I remember building small houses around the marks. I was touched. I fell in love with them and I wanted to become a Sister.”

Sr Jane Frances said her first experience of a Sister was similar.

“The first time I saw a religious woman it moved me,” she said. “I think I was just under five because I hadn’t yet started going to school. In the villages it was rare to see a priest or a Sister, but the first time I saw a religious Sister I was so impressed with her, especially the way she led us in prayer. When she asked us to pray I knew all the prayers and she called me ‘my friend,’ and I felt so close to her.”

Sr Sarah, Sr Maria and Sr Jane Frances are now the inspiration to a whole new generation of religious Sisters at their novitiate in Ggogonya where they are helping others to develop and grow in Faith and be an asset to the Church in Uganda and potentially further afield.

A shining example of the Sisters’ inspirational work is seen at the Babies Home in the Nsambya region of the city, which the Archdiocese of Kampala entrusted to their care in 1989. There they mainly receive babies who have been abandoned, neglected or orphaned, and they provide them with food, clothing, shelter, medical care and basic education.

Most importantly though, they offer the babies there a mother’s love and it was quite clear on our visit that it is a feeling that is reciprocated.

 

Faith

Each one of the priests, religious sisters, seminarians and novices acknowledged that they would have struggled to take up a vocation without support from their family and friends and their local clergy and religious, but also from those who contribute to the Pontifical Mission Societies, including the supporters of Missio Scotland. They are fully aware of the universality of the Church. We must always be aware of that fact as Scottish Catholics too.

By contributing to Missio Scotland you are playing your part in supporting the formation and subsequent service of priests and religious, not just in Uganda but throughout the world.

By providing that support you are contributing greatly to the Universal Church and while we are often painted a bleak picture of Faith here in Scotland, I’ll leave it to Fr Vincent to explain why, thanks to the universality of the Church, this is not the case.

“Faith is in-built,” Fr Vincent said. “The people of Scotland have not lost their Faith, because Faith is a gift that God has given to all of us.

“They have it. The people of Scotland accepted that gift of Faith and it’s a Faith that you live. What the team from Missio Scotland are doing here and what its supporters are doing at home, are living signs that there is Faith in Scotland.

“Jesus said ‘Go out into the whole world and preach,’ and you have come, not from Uganda, but from Scotland.

“So when people here hear that people have come from Scotland to visit them and that Scottish people support them, they view it as a country of Faith. So Faith there is not in decline.

“The signs are there. The Scottish people have it. The fruits are inside them—the seed is inside them.”

 

– To learn more about the work of Missio Scotland, visit: www.missio.scot, www.facebook.com/missio.scot, follow @Missio_Scotland on Twitter or contact gerard@missio.scot.

– To donate to Missio Scotland, visit: www.missio.scot/donations, call : 01236 449774 or send donations to: Missio Scotland, St Andrews, 4 Laird Street, Coatbridge ML5 3LJ

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