The Catholic Bishops of Uganda have issued a pastoral statement on the occasion of Pope Francis’ pending visit to that country which will take place from the 27 to 29 November this year. The Bishops have called on Ugandans to prepare themselves spiritually so that they will be in a fitting state to receive the pope’s blessings.
The Bishops also ask Ugandans to perform acts of charity. “We call upon you to do acts of charity towards the poor and to practice works of penance so that we can all receive the Papal blessing in a worthy manner. Most importantly, let us make every effort to reconcile and love one another as Christ has loved us,” the statement reads in part.
The Bishops have said that Pope Francis is coming to Uganda as a bridge-builder for peace and reconciliation.
“Most importantly, in a country like ours where unity and national consensus has eluded us for decades, the Pope comes as a bridge builder. His visit provides yet another golden opportunity for us Ugandans to be instruments of unity, peace and reconciliation in the family and among the various religious, cultural and political groups. This demands of us to imitate Christ who came to serve rather than to be served, it invites us to be servants to one another,” the statement reads.
The pastoral statement is signed by the Archbishop of Gulu, John Baptist Odama, who is President of the Uganda Episcopal Conference.
Here below is the full statement:
Message of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda on the Occasion of the Visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Uganda,
27th-29th November, 2015
Theme: You Will be My Witnesses [Acts 1:8]
Uganda is a blessed land! Pope Francis will be the third Supreme Pontiff to visit us. No other country in Africa has had such a privilege. The Holy Father is coming to celebrate with us the 50th Anniversary of the canonization of the Uganda Martyrs, whose blood has been the seed of Christianity in our country. They laid down their lives as an example that remains to encourage all of us on our spiritual journey.
The Pope's visit and presence during the celebrations requires us to prepare in a special way. The nature of this visit is primarily pastoral and spiritual. Coming to us, Pope Francis is carrying out the mission entrusted to Peter by Jesus: "...but I have prayed that your faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers (Lk 22:32).
Therefore, all Catholics are called to undertake appropriate spiritual preparation. Specific indications and directives will be issued at national and diocesan level. As a common gesture which will unite us all in prayer, we ask that before the final blessing of every Mass, as well as in our daily personal, family or community prayer, we recite one 'Our Father', 'Hail Mary' and 'Glory be to the Father....7 for the intentions of the Pope and the success of his visit.
Furthermore, we call upon you to do acts of charity towards the poor and to practice works of penance so that we can receive the Papal blessing in a worthy manner. Most importantly, let us make every effort to reconcile and love one another as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34).
As we look forward to the visit of the Holy Father, let us pray for spiritual renewal while gratefully emphasizing the blessings, which include the gift of the Uganda Martyrs and the sacrifice of the missionaries. Uganda presents one of the most remarkable stories in the history of Christian faith and martyrdom. At the start of the 20th Century, there were barely ten thousand Catholics within our borders. Today, approximately fifteen million Ugandans are Catholics.
The Church in Uganda is vibrant and known for its contribution to the social transformation of our country. Since the advent of Catholicism in Uganda in the early 19th Century, it has provided health services and education to the poor and rich alike. The Church has constructed hospitals and other health facilities, schools and homes for persons with disabilities, and has set up many socio-economic programmes for the improvement of the lives of the people. As we reflect on the above achievements, we need to ask ourselves what our individual contributions have been (Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church: 1 Iff).
Conversely, we are beset by challenges to which we, as Church, need to pay particular attention as we await the visit of His Holiness the Pope. We draw your attention to the alarming gap and contradictions between the faith we profess and the life we live, between the gospel and some traditional African practices such as polygamy, cohabitation, trial marriage, witchcraft and human sacrifice. While many Catholics recognize the sacredness of marriage, many are non-compliant to the demands of Christian marriage.
The family is also affected by infidelity, denial of mutual love, domestic violence, underage marriage, poor communication among spouses, excessive dowry, child abuse, poverty, alcoholism and diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Some of these problems were alluded to in the Apostolic Exhortations "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World", "The Church in Africa as Family of God", and "Africa's Commitment". Before the Holy Father comes, we are challenged to recommit ourselves to promoting the values and sanctity of marriage and the family, and to rebuilding the moral vibre of our country.
The Uganda Martyrs are an ideal example of what is required of us to live the faith within the family and the Church. Some of the Martyrs had been married traditionally but chose to denounce polygamy and embrace monogamy in line with Christian teaching.
During his visit to Uganda in 1969, Blessed Pope Paul VI called upon Africans to be missionaries to themselves. In order to realize this dream we must cultivate profound knowledge of our Church and the faith. There is, thus, need to ask ourselves whether this statement is applicable to us today and how much we are doing to share our faith with one another. In Is.52:7 we read: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings Glad Tidings...." This is reechoed in Rom.10:15. Similarly, in Mt.5:13-16, Christ has commanded us, his followers, to influence the world: "You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world...." In the same spirit, we invite you to re-read our Pastoral Letter, "Let Your Light Shine", issued in 1993.
In his first letter, St. Peter (2:9) calls us the chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy people, and counsels us on the life of the Christian in the world (lPt. 2:11-4: 14). Similarly, in his writings (cf. Gal.5:22, IThes 4:1-12, Rom. 13:13-14), St. Paul repeatedly calls us to holiness and life in the spirit, characterized by love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. It is life which, in no way, is compatible with corruption, immorality, impurity, sorcery and witchcraft, permissiveness, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, adultery, fornication, injustice, violence, abuse of human rights, fury and selfishness. Yet, these vices are rampart in our country today.
As we prepare for the visit of the Pope, we recommend deeper reflection on the Social teaching of the Church. Together with him we need to embrace and advocate for the preferential option for the poor, and to proclaim and witness to the gospel of justice and holiness in our daily interactions. Most importantly, in a country like ours where unity and national consensus has eluded us for decades, the Pope comes as a bridge builder. His visit provides yet another golden opportunity for us Ugandans to be instruments of unity, peace and reconciliation in the family, and among the various religious, cultural and political groups. This demands of us to imitate Christ who came to serve rather than to be served, it invites us to be servants to one another (cf. Mk. 10: 42-45, Jn. 13: 12).
Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato si" should also be an inspiration to us in our relationship with our mother earth. In this encyclical, the Holy Father highlights the dangers and consequences of human behavior on the environment and survival of the human race. Referring to major challenges, such as pollution and irresponsible exploitation of natural resources, the Pontiff calls us to a greater stewardship of the environment.
In conclusion, we continue to pray that the visit of the Holy Father provides us with the opportunity of growth, renewal, rededication and re-invigoration of our faith. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles and Martyrs, St. Joseph and the Martyrs of Uganda intercede for us!
Most Rev John Baptist Odama,
Archbishop of Gulu and
Chairman of Uganda Episcopal Conference.
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