Pope in Uganda: "The Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, are true national heroes"
Entebbe (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today arrived in Uganda, around 5 pm, later than expected because of a delay in his departure from Nairobi, Kenya.
In his first event, the pontiff took part in the formal welcome ceremony with anthems, military honours and some traditional dances, at the end of which he addressed government officials and the diplomatic corps, highlighting the exemplary hospitality that Uganda has for the refugees at a time which we are witnessing the globalisation of a “throwaway culture".
In his second event, Francis focused on bearing witness to the faith in a speech to catechists and seminarians at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine, where the first four Uganda martyrs were killed in 1886, including Andrew Kaggwa, patron saint of the Ugandan catechists.
After his motorcade drove through streets lined up with cheering crowd, lampposts decorated in the colours of the Ugandan flag – black, yellow and red – with hundreds of soldiers and police to prevent any attacks by the Somalia-based al-Shebaab al-Mujahideen extremis group, the pope arrived at the State House in Entebbe, where he was greeted by President Kaguta Museveni, and the country’s highest civil and religious authorities and a group of faithful.
One of the highlights of his two-day stay in the country will be the commemoration of 22 Catholic martyrs killed during the persecution of Christians in the region in 1885-1887. Many Anglicans suffered the same fate. In both cases, most of them were officials at the Buganda court.
The Uganda martyrs were the first sub-Saharan Africans to be venerated as saints by the Catholic Church. Beatified by Benedict XV in 1920, they were canonised by Pope Paul VI on 8 October 1964. Pope Paul VI himself visited Uganda in 1969.
“The Martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, are true national heroes,” Francis said. “They bear witness to the guiding principles expressed in Uganda’s motto – For God and My Country. They remind us of the importance that faith, moral rectitude and commitment to the common good have played, and continue to play, in the cultural, economic and political life of this country. They also remind us that, despite our different beliefs and convictions, all of us are called to seek the truth, to work for justice and reconciliation, and to respect, protect and help one another as members of our one human family. These high ideals are particularly demanded of men and women like yourselves, who are charged with ensuring good and transparent governance, integral human development, a broad participation in national life, as well as a wise and just distribution of the goods which the Creator has so richly bestowed upon these lands.”
Drawing attention to Africa
“My visit is also meant to draw attention to Africa as a whole, its promise, its hopes, its struggles and its achievements. The world looks to Africa as the continent of hope. Uganda has indeed been blessed by God with abundant natural resources, which you are challenged to administer as responsible stewards. But above all, the nation has been blessed in its people: its strong families, its young and its elderly. I look forward to my meeting tomorrow with the young, for whom I will have words of encouragement and challenge. How important it is that they be given hope, opportunities for education and gainful employment, and above all the opportunity to share fully in the life of society. But I also wish to mention the blessing which you have in the elderly. They are the living memory of every people. Their wisdom and experience should always be valued as a compass which can enable society to find the right direction in confronting the challenges of the present with integrity, wisdom and vision.
“Here in East Africa, Uganda has shown outstanding concern for welcoming refugees, enabling them to rebuild their lives in security and to sense the dignity which comes from earning one’s livelihood through honest labour. Our world, caught up in wars, violence, and various forms of injustice, is witnessing an unprecedented movement of peoples. How we deal with them is a test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity, and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need.
“Although my visit is brief, I hope to encourage the many quiet efforts being made to care for the poor, the sick and those in any kind of trouble. It is in these small signs that we see the true soul of a people. In so many ways, our world is growing closer; yet at the same time we see with concern the globalization of a “throwaway culture” which blinds us to spiritual values, hardens our hearts before the needs of the poor, and robs our young of hope.”
Calling on catechists to be teachers and witnesses
Songs, dances, warriors and candles also welcomed the pontiff at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine where he spoke to catechists and teachers.
“Teacher! What a beautiful name this is! Jesus is our first and greatest teacher. Saint Paul tells us that Jesus gave his Church not only apostles and pastors, but also teachers, to build up the whole body in faith and love. Together with the bishops, priests and deacons who are ordained to preach the Gospel and care for the Lord’s flock, you, as catechists, play an outstanding part in bringing the Good News to every village and homestead in your country.
“I wish before all else, to thank you for the sacrifices which you and your families make, and for the zeal and devotion with which you carry out your important task. You teach what Jesus taught, you instruct adults and help parents to raise their children in the faith, and you bring the joy and hope of eternal life to all. Thank you for your dedication, your example, your closeness to God’s people in their daily lives, and all the many ways you plant and nurture the seeds of faith throughout this vast land. Thank you especially for teaching our children and young people how to pray.
“I know that your work, although rewarding, is not easy. So I encourage you to persevere, and I ask your bishops and priests to support you with a doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral formation capable of making you ever more effective in your outreach. Even when the task seems too much, the resources too few, the obstacles too great, it should never be forgotten that yours is a holy work. The Holy Spirit is present wherever the name of Christ is proclaimed. He is in our midst whenever we lift up our hearts and minds to God in prayer. He will give you the light and strength you need! The message you bring will take root all the more firmly in people’s hearts if you are not only a teacher but also a witness. Your example should speak to everyone of the beauty of prayer, the power of mercy and forgiveness, the joy of sharing in the Eucharist with all our brothers and sisters.
“The Christian community in Uganda grew strong through the witness of the martyrs. They testified to the truth which sets men free; they were willing to shed their blood to be faithful to what they knew was good and beautiful and true. We stand here today in Munyonyo at the place where King Mwanga determined to wipe out the followers of Christ. He failed in this, just as King Herod failed to kill Jesus. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it (cf. Jn 1:5). After seeing the fearless testimony of Saint Andrew Kaggwa and his companions, Christians in Uganda became even more convinced of Christ’s promises.
“May Saint Andrew, your patron, and all the Ugandan catechist martyrs, obtain for you the grace to be wise teachers, men and women whose every word is filled with grace, convincing witnesses to the splendour of God’s truth and the joy of the Gospel! Go forth without fear to every town and village in this country, to spread the good seed of God’s word, and trust in his promise that you will come back rejoicing, with sheaves full from the harvest.
“Omukama Abawe Omukisa! (God bless you!)”