Tag Archives: Uganda

2 August: A Ugandan ‘thank you’ to Pope Francis for creating the catechist ministry

Oola Bosco, a catechist, teaches at the Palabek Refugee Settlement March 2021 in Uganda. Many of the refugees at the settlement are from South Sudan. (Courtesy of Lazar Arasu)

 

A Ugandan ‘thank you’ to Pope Francis for creating the catechist ministry by Lazar Arasu from National Catholic Reporter, June 30. A taste of the article follows; the whole piece can be found at this link.

Moses Kiggwa is a dedicated catechist in Kamuli parish within Jinja Diocese, which is about 70 miles east of our capital of Kampala. Besides training as a primary teacher, he also trained himself as a catechist.

“I find joy in being a catechist more than anything else,” Moses told me recently. He eventually gave up his teaching career to be a full-time evangelizer. He noted with pride that he has helped to found several sub-parishes in the remote areas of his parish, along the Nile River.

Now in his late 50s, he is still committed to educating people to faith. Riding his bicycle for several years in his evangelization efforts has created serious health problems, but he is only happy that he has sustained the faith of several hundreds of people.

Surely there are lessons for the rest of the Church from the long-standing ministry of catechists in countries like Uganda?

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1 August: Missionary travel, 1934 style.

In order to give the superiors a little encouragement in the way of making a missionary of me, I at last was able to acquire a second hand motor-bike and sidecar (plus of course a debt!) and was given charge of five villages (don’t imagine “village”, think of forests, banana gardens, cotton fields + very scattered huts). I did the sick calls for a month + two safaris. Bedding and everything packed off to a mud house in the woods seven miles away and then I nearly died of fatigue. Quite frankly exhausted. Hut to hut visiting over fields, rocks, ruts …. For hours and hours each day. Little sleep at night because of rats and spiders …. How I learnt to admire the real missionaries! Those who do this always.

It’s 1934, and Fr Arthur Hughes, recently arrived in Uganda, is trying to get away from being a desk jockey; he was the bishop’s secretary. Different times! The missionaries had vast areas to cover and the motor bike was a reasonably efficient and cheap means of getting about; he had used one extensively in England earlier. Not very many years before this, a push bike was considered something of a luxury for a missionary. Arthur is writing to his sister Winifred in London; we have kept his punctuation.

Nowadays there are many Ugandan priests, serving God and their people, but from before Fr Hughes’s time to the present day, the Church has been held together through the work of lay catechists. Tomorrow we will be visiting them in Uganda, and finding more about this long-established ministry which has at last been formally recognised by Pope Francis.

Spiders look bigger in the dark with only a hurricane lamp to see by.

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9 March, Gates II: Kampala’s Gate of Heaven, 1934.

Yersinia pestis, the plague bacteria

We have been living with the covid pandemic for more than a year but treatments are on the horizon. In 1934, before antibiotics were set to work in medicine, the Pneumonic Plague was ravaging Uganda. This appeal by Fr Arthur Hughes, M.Afr appeared in The Tablet, 10 February 1934.

By miracles of temporal healing Our Lord frequently awakened yearnings for eternal remedies: is it, then, surprising that our hospital should be for many the anteroom to the Baptistery and the Gate of Heaven? Generously sacrificing many other cherished projects, the mission has concentrated on the establishment of a very satisfactory and properly equipped hospital, where in circumstances of hygienic perfection and comfort pagans and Muslims, as well as our own Christians, receive medical attention and the services of trained nurses … the hospital is absolutely necessary to the spiritual welfare of the mission. Were we deprived of it, we would risk losing many souls as well as many lives … 

I write this in the room occupied by Father Wolters, who, only last September, returned from administering the Sacraments to five plague-stricken members of the same family, and died of the plague within two days*…Yet our own hospital can neither be recognized nor maintained without the permanent services of a doctor. At present the sisters urgently need £120 per annum for this purpose. So far an Indian doctor comes regularly, although he has not yet been paid … here is a necessity real, urgent, concerning the glory of God, the salvation of souls, the preservation of life, the care and comfort of suffering being very dear to us in the heart of Christ. Dare we hope? 

Illness was certainly the Gate of Heaven for Fr Wolters, though he received no miracle cure from his plague. But Fr Hughes was thinking more of patients and relatives who would hear the Gospel, in perhaps a new way, when faced with serious illness or potentially dangerous surgery. It can concentrate the mind if you know you might not wake up from the anaesthetic: Prepare to meet thy God! A motto good for any and every day, but a crisis can indeed concentrate the mind.

There is also the experience of skilled, loving nursing care which, of course, can also be administered by Muslim, Hindu or Atheist. Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found, as we will sing in person or in our hearts, on Maundy Thursday. Let us pray for those who have been putting their lives and well-being at risk in caring for others, and for those who cannot obtain life-saving medicines or vaccines.

The Missionaries of Africa still work in Uganda. You can support them this Lent by sending completed cheques, postal orders and gift aid forms to the following address: The Superior Missionaries of Africa 15 Corfton Road London W5 2HP …

* One of the patients was sick in his face. Fr Wolters came home, sorted his affairs, and prepared himself for death.

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23 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 2.

Pope Leo XIII

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

Slavery was not a matter of abstract theology. Pope and cardinal were well aware of the real flesh and blood suffering and determined to bring it to an end. Lavigerie therefore left his diocese of Algiers and travelled through Europe, stirring up support for justice towards the victims of violence and abuse.

Instead of returning to Africa, I am going to Paris, not to ask for funds, but rather to finally tell what I know about the crimes without name which are destroying the interior of our Africa, and then to let out a great cry, one of those cries which shakes up to the bottom of the soul, of all that is still worthy the name of man and Christian in the world. What I have to do is nothing other than bringing into the light what Leo XIII has just written about African slavery.”

In his encyclical In Plurimis of 1888, Pope Leo welcomed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. He reiterated how Jesus had come to set the captives free, and how the popes, from Saint Gregory the Great onwards had urged the breaking of the chains of slavery to restore all men and women to the dignity God intended. Leo made clear that, ‘The system [of slavery] is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature.’ He rejected outright the theory that some people were born inferior and so could be legally and morally enslaved.

This excuse had been used down the centuries from pre-Christian times to the conquistadores in Latin America; it was how the Portuguese had justified slavery in Brazil and the Spanish in the rest of the continent, and its poison can still be felt in racist attitudes today. Pope Leo made clear that from Saint Paul onwards the Church had striven to put an end to slavery. However, human greed, as well as war had caused it to linger in Christian as well as Muslim lands until the 19th century when the successors of Columbus were still avariciously abusing Africans as well as Indians in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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22 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 1.

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From the 1860s onwards, as missionaries arrived in the interior of Africa south of the Sahara, it became clear that the work of William Wilberforce and the abolitionists earlier in the 19th century was far from complete. Although the slave trade across the Atlantic had been ended in 1807, and slavery itself abolished in the British Empire in 1833, the missionaries found that people were still being kidnapped and sold to Arab slavers across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The European powers, while busily carving up Africa between them, had agreed in Berlin in 1885 to work for the suppression of slavery in Africa. It was time to take them at their word.

Saint Daniel Comboni, founder of the Verona Fathers had died in 1881. His life’s work had been in Sudan, where an ancient slave trade was still being savagely practised by the Arab colonisers. He saw that ‘In Central Africa, slavery remains as flourishing as ever, but the cries of the victims are never heard far away in Europe. The desolation continues and will continue for a long time.’ It was reports like his, as well as those sent to Cardinal Lavigerie by pioneer Missionaries of Africa like Fr Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans, that made sure their cries were heard, and inspired Pope Leo XIII and Lavigerie to initiate a new campaign.

Despite the many difficulties they faced in establishing their mission in Uganda, Lourdel and Amans immediately set about ransoming slaves and providing safe houses for them. Lavigerie had alread been doing the same thing further north. Buying slaves would never be a long-term solution though, since the slaver had his profit without the trouble of transporting his captives to the coast, and could still pick up a few more unfortunates once out of the missionaries’ sight.

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

MMB

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18 December. The ruined chapel, II: in the nearby church and in Uganda.

richards castle pew

On November 16th we visited an abandoned Methodist chapel. Albert’s comment on that post brought to mind the nearby Anglican church of which this is a feature. To make a sweeping generalisation, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Anglicans had churches, while Dissenters – Protestants who for various reasons did not accept all the traditions of Anglicanism – worshipped in buildings called chapels; that was the case here at the 12th Century church of Saint Bartholomew, right on the Shropshire-Hereford boundary.

This wooden cabin inside the church is actually a family pew for local gentry. There would have been cushions and footwarmers provided for their comfort at this time of year. Small wonder that the poor people of the parish went elsewhere, especially if they heard proclaimed these words of James Chapter 2.

ruined chapel

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

It need not be that way. During the 1930s in Uganda, there was a great deal of unexamined racism with Europeans holding themselves aloof from the locals. They would even expect to go to Communion first in Rubaga Cathedral. One man who stood out against this was Sir Joseph Sheridan, Chief Justice of East Africa. Not only did he mix with the Africans at Communion, unlike other Europeans, he also processed barefoot at the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

It is not just at Church that we are challenged to choose the ‘option for the poor’, though that is a good place to start. Catholics were not invited to share the sign of peace at Mass until the 1960s, but we should assert our membership of Jesus’ family by sharing it with whomsoever we are near, and maybe exchanging a word with them after Mass. People who feel cold-shouldered by congregations today may well just fade away, and not go looking for a congregation that welcomes and suits them.

But a conversation with a lonely person, a few cheerful or sympathetic words with the person on the checkout or in front of us in a queue. There are many people poor in ways other than financial.

 

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11 December: the impenetrable accent

During the 1930s the British Colonial Office was beginning to grasp its duty to provide education for the young people of Uganda. The overwhelming majority of schools were provided by the Anglican and Catholic churches, but they were receiving some government finance and so  subject to inspection by British inspectors working for the Ugandan civil service.

One of these was a Scotswoman that the Anglican Bishop Stuart, who was based at Kampala, complained of. In retirement  he recalled how she had turned up to inspect one of his schools, and gave it poor marks and a bad report.

This surprised him, since he knew his schools, and this was a good one. However, on enquiring, he was told that nobody responded to her questions because nobody understood a word she said.

We can reflect in the words of Scotland’s National Poet:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.

Robert Burns, To a Louse.

In particular, as parents or teachers, to see ourselves as children see us. We won’t find out by asking them, but by watching them in our presence.

Bishop Cyril Stuart was often at odds with his Christians, but when he retired to Worcester, he and his wife Mary were presented with a ceremonial scroll, on which they were portrayed with dark skin, because they were seen as one with their Ugandan Christian brothers and sisters. His memoirs are in Lambeth Palace Library. (see p 17).

MMB.

 

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22 October, Month of Mission : better together.

hughes-photo-group-pre-mission-2-800x532

In my reading about Archbishop Arthur Hughes there was a story from 1938 about his boss worrying. This priest was a great worrier, as it happened, but he was regional superior for Uganda, and the Superior General insisted he stay in the job.

On this occasion, Arthur Hughes was at the annual scout camp as an assistant county commissioner, not as chaplain, although there was daily Mass.

Father Superior had expected to see a separate Catholic Scout Movement such as still exist in France. It was not like that in Uganda.

Arthur Hughes and other fathers were dining with the leaders, and Father Hughes was wearing not his habit but full scout uniform including his shorts, or ‘petite culotte bombo’, apparently with the local Bishop’s approval. Hughes was ‘Mess President, General Secretary, Man of all work, and chief raconteur’, according to an unidentified newspaper report. No doubt he was enjoying himself, but why were the fathers taking orders from Protestant laymen?

Well, we might ask, why not?

Mr Lameka Sekaboga was appointed Assistant County Commissioner during the camp; even as Father Superior fretted, the organisation was being put into competent lay, Ugandan hands. It was surely better for Catholics to work with others to make this happen, Arthur Hughes could see that, his Superior could not, but concentrated on the differences that appeared to define Catholics, and within the church, to define clergy against lay people.

We now see many ministries working ecumenically: Street Pastors, food banks, refugee care, the list is long. What we can share, we should share. And salute those who made the first steps towards Churches working together.

Arthur Hughes (front, centre) and confreres about to leave for Africa.
Missionaries of Africa Archives.

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28 June: Bernadette and the Sacraments.

Bernadette Soubirous.jpg

Let’s continue talking about the Eucharist. I was reading about Saint Bernadette, the young girl who saw ‘la bonne Mère’ – the good mother – in the little grotto by the river in Lourdes, France, in 1858. This reflection  is not about those apparitions, nor the shrine that has grown up there, but about something we can take for granted: the opportunity to take a full part in the Eucharist, not just by being present at Mass but by receiving the Sacrament that unites us in Christ’s body and blood.

Bernadette grew up speaking the local dialect and playing a full part in the family’s economy, working as a shepherd, running errands for neighbours, to earn money to put bread on the table. She left school early to do so, and never learnt French which was the language of the catechism she had to absorb to be allowed to receive Communion. Yet in her heart she understood as well as anyone what the Eucharist meant. Eventually she was taken into a boarding school as a poor scholar, mastered French and received the Sacrament with joy.

Image result for streicher ugandaThis is Henri Streicher, a Missionary of Africa who became Bishop of Uganda from 1897 to 1933. He and his Anglican counterpart, Bishop Tucker – acting more as rivals than fellow workers, it has to be said – made it a priority to translate the Bible and catechisms into the local languages and to print these texts so that all could read them. They also made sure that there were basic schools in the villages where young and old could learn to read and write, which they were very keen to do.

During the 1980s, helped by an impetus from the UN Year of Disabled People in 1981, a great effort was made to make all aspects of Church life, including the Sacraments, available to disabled people. Away with ‘he cannot understand’, or ‘she’s innocent, she doesn’t need the Sacraments’. The Sacraments are for all.

New ways of presenting the Faith came into being. We looked more at the fellowship of believers, not just individual sin and salvation. L’Arche communities are one expression of this inclusive attitude.

The UN’s reflection on the year states:

A major lesson of the Year was that the image of persons with disabilities depends to an important extent on social attitudes; these were a major barrier to the realization of the goal of full participation and equality in society by persons with disabilities.

This was true in the Church as well. I know that more can and should be done, but let us rejoice that few people now will be refused the Sacraments on grounds of disability. We should make sure to welcome all, as Jesus did.

Saint Bernadette as a child, public domain, via Wikipedia

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June 2, Feast of the Uganda Martyrs: Too few priests?

Bishop Henri Streicher.jpg

Bishop Henri Streicher

 

 

Tomorrow we celebrate Corpus Christi, the second feast of the Eucharist after Maundy Thursday. The feast of the Uganda Martyrs gets displaced, but we’ll go to Uganda anyway.

Bishop Henri Streicher was a pioneer bishop in Uganda in the early 20th Century. If we think we are short of priests in the West today, he and his missionaries were hard-stretched to serve the numbers of converts flocking to the Church, even when the load was shared with African sisters and priests who would eventually take charge.

There was no way that missionaries could organise the details of church life! I read recently that:

Mgr Streicher was a greater promoter of pious associations and devotions among the laity. Some of these were: 1st Friday of the month, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes, Holy Hour, Fraternity of Mount Carmel (Cf. wearing of scapulars), Uganda Martyrs, frequent receiving of the Holy Communion, Communion of children, Adoration of 40 hours, Morning and Evening prayers, Rosary and attending daily Mass. Being an active member of these associations and regular practices of these devotions is the best means to fight and “conquer evil with good” which was the episcopal motto of Mgr. Streicher.

Many of these devotions could be organised day to day by parents in the home or by catechists at village level when the priests could not be present. Entrusting this ministry to the catechist was an effective way of building up the Christian community. Even though the catechists had barely the equivalent of a modern primary education, Bishop Streicher trusted them, and the people of the villages, to build up the Church.

It is my belief that when lay people in the west are allowed, encouraged, enabled and entrusted to be responsible for the life of their communities, the next step towards providing the Eucharist for God’s people will become clear.

reference

(The Uganda Martyrs canonised by the Catholic Church died in the late 19th Century. There have been many more of them since. Among their number are many Anglicans, both then and in modern times, including in 1977 Archbishop Janani Luwum, murdered by order of President Idi Amin. There have been Moslem martyrs too, over the years.)

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