Fr. Robert Dowd, C.S.C.
Because one important goal of our visit is to connect with the Catholic Church in Uganda, today we met with bishops and Church leaders. We wanted to celebrate the achievements of the Church, learn about the unique challenges faced, particularly in the area of higher education, and pledge to work with the local Church in its ongoing efforts to promote human well-being.
Several of us at Notre Dame are already good friends with some of Uganda’s bishops, like Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu. He has visited Notre Dame several times and recently spoke on campus about the great suffering caused by the 20-year-long war in northern Uganda. As many students at Notre Dame know, over 30,000 children have been abducted and killed, and tens of thousands of people continue to suffer in internally displaced persons camps just a few hours north of Kampala. In a sense, Uganda is like two different countries: a poor but peaceful one in the south and an even poorer and war-torn one in the north. I talked with Archbishop Odama a few weeks before we left Notre Dame in hopes that he could meet with our group. He expressed his appreciation for the invitation and for all the work that Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty have been doing for peace in northern Uganda, but he told me he would not be able to join us because of events requiring his presence in the north.
Although Archbishop Odama could not meet us in Kampala, the Church’s leadership was very well represented. Among those present at the meeting were Cardinal Wamala (retired Archbishop of Kampala), Bishop Ssekamanya (Chair of the Uganda Episcopal Conference and Chancellor of Uganda Martyrs University), Archbishop Lwanga (Archbishop of Kampala), and Bishop Zziwa (Chair of the Board of Governors of Uganda Martyrs University).
The Catholic Church has been involved in education, healthcare, and community development at the grassroots level for more a hundred years; the Congregation of Holy Cross has been serving the Church here since 1958. While all too often religion has been used to divide people in Uganda as elsewhere, the Church here has always included heroes who have been open to working with and serving all people while remaining true to the faith. In fact, I believe the growth and vibrancy of the Catholic Church in Uganda is largely due to the example set by such heroes.
Only recently has the Catholic Church been involved in higher education in Uganda with the opening of Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) in 1994. During our meeting with the bishops, Cardinal Wamala explained the genesis of UMU. He said that lay Catholics in Uganda were calling for an institution of higher learning that would cultivate the heart as well as the mind. For various political and economic reasons, Catholic leaders struggled to respond to this call for many years. In a relatively short period of time, UMUhas assembled a top-notch faculty and has earned a reputation for excellence in agricultural studies, public health, good governance, development studies, and business.
In his remarks, Father John congratulated the bishops for the remarkable growth of UMU and noted that Notre Dame was nowhere nearly as developed 12 years after it was founded in 1842. Father John went on to tell the story of Notre Dame’s founding by Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and the Congregation of Holy Cross. He listed some of Notre Dame’s aspirations as a Catholic university and stressed the importance of providing Notre Dame students and faculty with more opportunities to cross boundaries of every sort and to be engaged in research and service that contributes to human well-being. Father John said that this is why he is enthused about a partnership between Notre Dame and UMU with regard to the Millennium Villages Project in Nindye village.
Tim Lyden and I did our best to describe the Millennium Villages Project and proposed a vision for how UMU and Notre Dame might work together promote the goals of the project. We spoke of the possibility of collaborative research projects and student exchange programs. Yet we suggested that the essence of our partnership should be the solidarity we hope to cultivate, the bond formed between two Catholic universities separated by great distance yet rooted in common values and views of the human person. The bishops asked probing questions and offered their ideas for the way forward. In the end, they expressed their support and desire to assist in any way that they can.
This meeting today was crucially important. We exchanged our concerns, our hopes, and desires. We were reminded that the Catholic Church is universal and that we should never let boundaries of any kind prevent us from working together for the common good. We agreed that the Millennium Villages Project provides UMU and Notre Dame with one more opportunity to better serve the Church and contribute to human well-being, which I consider two sides of the same coin. Since the Church has been in Uganda a relatively long time, will continue to be around for the foreseeable future, and enjoys a great deal of trust compared to many nongovernmental organizations and agencies, I believe that working with the Church enhances the prospects that the project will be truly empowering and sustainable.