2015-02-24 09:15:00

Catholics in Uganda celebrate 136 years of their faith

The year was 1879, on 17 February, when a canoe, aboard the canoe were two White Fathers also known as Missionaries of Africa. The canoe touched the shores of Lake Victoria at Kigungu in Entebbe, the current day Wakiso district of Uganda. 

The two Catholic missionaries — Fr. Simeon Lourdel and Br. Amans Delmas — of the White Fathers, had left Marseilles, in France, to spread Christianity. 

They had left their comfort and ventured into the unknown wilderness of Africa to spread the Gospel. They were the very first Catholic missionaries in Uganda.

Fast forward, the seed the two missionaries sowed, 136 years ago, has yielded fruit — and lots of healthy fruit at that! 

On Tuesday, last week as Catholics shuffled around the small Fr. Simeon Lourdel memorial church at the remote landing site of Kigungu to pay tribute to these ‘fathers’ of Catholicism in Uganda, you could see there was a lot to celebrate the missionaries for. The ‘forefathers’ mean a lot to Catholicism in Uganda.

Much as a heavy downpour earlier on threatened to ruin the occasion, none of the faithful wanted to be derailed. They kept on, trekking to the venue, singing, and praising the two ‘forefathers’ of Catholicism in Uganda. They couldn’t stutter in the celebrations of such a remarkable day, not for anything.

The Archbishop of Kampala, Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, who led the prayers, said: “Without the missionaries we wouldn’t have Christianity in Uganda; we wouldn’t have the Uganda Martyrs. They are our ‘forefathers’.” 

“After they landed here (Kigungu), they proceeded to Kisubi and then to King Mutesa’s Palace in Mengo to ask him for permission to spread Christianity,” the Archbishop said.

And along with Christianity, they started, among other institutions, schools and hospitals. 

“We should strive hard to be as courageous and as transparent as our ‘forefathers’ (the two missionaries),” the Archbishop said to hundreds of faithful attending the celebrations. 

The story of Lourdel (locally known as Fr. Mapeera) and Amans started in Marseilles, France, on 22 April 1878, with the first caravan of White Fathers. The group sojourned to Port Aden, near the Red Sea, before voyaging to Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. They landed in Zanzibar on 30 May.  On 17 June, the whole caravan soldiered on, on foot, into the interior of Africa, curving their way through the wilderness. 

After Zanzibar, they reached the Tanzanian town of Bagamoyo before in-landing further to Tabora and then to Kageye on Lake Victoria. “The journey from France to Uganda took them about 10 months. They had to leave their comfort and step into the unknown. They crossed the Indian Ocean. And were not afraid of the wilderness in Africa,” the Rev. Fr. Joseph Mukasa Muwonge of the Uganda Martyrs Christian devotion recounted.

After landing at Kigungu, the two spent a night at Kisubi (on their way to Kabaka Mutesa I’s palace in Mengo to ask him for permission to spread Christianity). When King Mutesa learnt of their arrival, he had them taken to Kitebi, some 5 Kilometres from Rubaga.  “Here, they spent 15 days, at times without food, and shivering from fever, and unsure of their fate,” Mukasa Muwonge narrated. 

But after Fr. Lourdel explained to Mutesa that he and four others had been sent to establish a Catholic mission in Uganda, the Kabaka waved a green flag to them — and thus the advent of Catholicism in Uganda. The Kabaka even offered them extra 24 canoes so they could cross Lake Victoria again to pick their counterparts. 

At the service, attended by His Eminence Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Bishop Kakooza, White Fathers, and several other members of the clergy, Archbishop Lwanga asked the laity, “as followers of Christ to emulate the two missionaries by striving to spread Our Father’s Word in whatever actions we do.” 

“When we kill, when we practice witchcraft, when we are corrupt, we are not emulating Fr. Mapeera. We are not spreading Our Father’s Word,” the Archbishop said. He re-emphasised the need of refurbishing the different Uganda martyrs’ shrines, saying that “they (the martyrs and missionaries) are our forefathers and a symbol of faith on which God’s Church is built.

The Archbishop said the Church also intended to build a teacher training centre at the Munyonyo Martyrs’ shrine. 

A monument is erected at the exact spot Fr. Simeon Lourdel and Br. Amans Delmas landed at Kigungu, just behind the Fr. Lourdel memorial church, in their memorial. 

(By John Agaba, New Vision, Uganda)

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