Upon arriving in Uganda, one has many impressions—the lush and beautiful land on the banks of Lake Victoria, the crowded and chaotic streets, and the signs of poverty and the hard lives of people here. But the overwhelming impression for me is the warmth, hospitality, and joy of the people. After arriving in Kampala late on January 5, our first event the following morning was to attend the ordination to the deaconate of three young African Holy Cross religious. It was a chance to see some old friends, to experience the warmth and welcome of a community, and to take part in the joyful celebration of Ugandan people.
The mass and ordination ceremony lasted for nearly three hours, and was an extraordinary celebration of faith and of the commitment of these young men. The Church in Uganda is a young Church. Although most of the country is Christian and forty percent is Catholic, Christianity only came to this land in the nineteenth century. Yet the vibrancy of faith was manifest in this ceremony that included much singing, dancing, prayers in several languages, applause, and various expressions of joy and thanks. Following the ceremony, we remained with their families and friends to give congratulations to the newly ordained and to share a meal in celebration.
The Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Lwanga, ordained the young men and at one point during an address that was marked by both humorous and inspiring stories, gave instruction about the three most important things for any missionary. First, he urged that they understand and appreciate the culture of the people served. Second, learn their language, for that is part of their culture. And third, be fully present to them in all their joys, sorrows, struggles, and triumphs. It is inspiring to see how well this is done in Uganda.
This day expressed well a number of important aspects of the purpose of this trip. First, at Notre Dame, we emphasize international experiences and the awareness of different cultures. This is especially important now, for we live in a global world, and one that is becoming more global. We must be more deeply aware of the rich cultures across continents and of the accomplishments of peoples. This trip is a chance to learn about the cultures of Africa. Despite any differences that set our American party from the Africans who warmly greet us at each stop, each of us desires to belong to a community that brings us together, supports us, and allows us to manifest our unique talents and abilities. While learning differences among peoples, one gets a sense of the possibility of and need for a deeper community.
Secondly, as a Catholic university, we are connected with a universal Church, and thus have loyalties that extend beyond the bounds of any single nation or culture. We are connected with the mystical body of Christ, which is present in many different lands and many different cultures. We are enriched by our awareness of the Church in other lands and cultures, and we strive to remain connected with them. The Congregation of Holy Cross has served in Uganda since the 1950’s, which is roughly half the life of this young Church. For many years Holy Cross in Uganda was predominantly expatriate Americans, who served faithfully and generously. Now the religious superior of the district is my friend, Fr. James Burasa, C.S.C., and the community is predominantly African. Holy Cross is richer, and the Church is richer, and as the faith takes root in these lands.
On this trip we seek to learn about this nation and its various cultures, celebrate this these people and its their accomplishments, and seek explore possibilities for constructive partnerships. In coming days we will visit those who work with the Millennium villages to assist economic development in this part of the world,, and meet with leaders of Uganda Martyrs University, a new Catholic university in this country. We will continue to strive to learn, celebrate this land, and build relationships.