TWENTY YEARS OF MISSIONARY PRESENCE IN UGANDA
CUSTODY OF ST. CHARLES LWANGA, UGANDA
On October 1, 2008, we, the Capuchin Brothers of the Most Holy Trinity Province, Karnataka, India, are marking 20 years of our missionary presence in Uganda – The Pearl of Africa. Entrusting Ugandan Mission to our Province, in his letter dated 27th September 1987 (Prot. N. 01447/87), the then Minister General, Br. Flavio Roberto Carraro decreed: “…that the territory of Uganda be assigned to the Province of Most Holy Trinity, and that steps be taken for an eventual Capuchin presence in that nation, blessed by the blood of martyrs…”
On October 1, 1988, the feast day of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, the Patroness of Missions, (with the sad memory of the tragic yet sacrificial death of one of the pioneers Br. Walter Saldanha on 31st March 1988, in a road accident in Tanzania, still lingering in their minds), the three friars (Br. Lawrence Dilraj Sequeira, Br. Anthony Alphaeus D’Souza and Br. Silvano DeSouza), landed on Ugandan soil. The implantation of the Franciscan Capuchin Order (i.e., to form Ugandan Capuchins on Ugandan soil), being the main intention, a three-phased programme was chalked out as a minimum long-term goal to be achieved by the friars in Uganda: (i) Establishment of a fraternity and service to the Local Church; (ii) Focus on vocation promotion and, (iii) Working out a formation programme.
As I look back to those 20 fruitful years and evaluate our missionary presence in this blessed country, my brothers, it gives me a feeling of great joy and satisfaction, peace and contentment. With the Psalmist I say, “I will extol you, my God and King; I will bless Your Name forever. Every day I will bless You; I will praise Your Name forever” (Ps 145, 1-2).
Br. John Corriveau, the former General Minister, during his pastoral visit in 1996 had made this comment: “The obvious dedication and zeal with which the friars have undertaken the implantation of the Capuchin Franciscan Charism in Uganda, the clear priority given by them to the witness of fraternal, evangelical life, the spirit and observance of fraternity prayer, the simplicity of life, given the certitude that this focussed dedication of the friars will bear rich fruit for the future of the Order in Uganda” (Prot. N. 01054/96).
Going back to the beginnings, Br. Liguory Noronha, the then Provincial Minister, in his article “In the Mission of the Master” wrote: “Fear prevents us from ‘going into the world’ - fear of fewness in number, fear of failures, fear of the strange and the unknown. It is in this fear-filled situation God’s Word reassures us: ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you. I shall be with you till the end of the ages.’ With God we are strong. With faith in his unfailing love we go beyond, from Jerusalem to Judea, from Judea to Samaria, from Samaria to all the lands.” God’s love, in fact, compels us to be in the mission of the Master and go from the ‘Jerusalem of Judea’ of our Province ‘into the world’ of Uganda.
We, the brothers of the Most Blessed Trinity Province, are chosen and sent to participate in the mission of Jesus, to the people of Uganda. Like Francis and Clare, we are invited to live and share a form of life which knows no bounds. The more we become aware of the relevance of the Gospel way of life, the more effective will be our lives. Our purpose is to live the life of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, after the manner of the Jerusalem community. To live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is to please God in all things. This is above all else our ‘missionary vocation’. St. Francis was God’s gift to the Church of his day. He was clearly a man of his time and place. We are God’s gift to the people of Uganda. It is our responsibility to continue the good news of salvation by becoming another Christ, like our Seraphic Saint.
Our five fraternities in three Dioceses have made a great impact on the lives of people. The work of brothers in pastoral, educational, medical and social field is commendable. The vocation promotion and formation that we began in 1994 has begun to yield fruits. To have six brothers in perpetual profession, 15 in first profession and a good number of candidates in initial stages of formation is indeed a matter of great joy. The initial stages of formation are carried out very well within the jurisdiction. Thank you very much dear formators. I am also grateful to the jurisdictions of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia who welcome our brothers to the special formation.
In these past twenty years, twenty two brothers from the Mother Province have rendered their valuable service in the mission. Eleven have returned to the Province and only eleven are working tirelessly to carry out the work of evangelization. The mother Province has been always ‘motherly’ and we hope that this care and concern will still continue in the years to come. I thank sincerely every brother who has contributed his ‘little’ or ‘big’ share in making the Custody rich and fruitful. We have grown from ‘Presence’ to ‘Mission’ ‘Mission’ to ‘Custody’ and we hope to grow from ‘Custody’ to ‘Vice-Province’. The financial support of General Minister and the Definitory through the Office of Economic Solidarity and the generous help of benefactors and friends has been a great support in the formation of the young brothers. I remain very grateful to you all.
This world of ours is shattered by violence and war, conflicts and tensions, social injustice and exploitation, unjust structures and oppression. It can easily lead one to discouragement and despair. In such a situation, we, the brothers of Francis have an important role to play to bring about peace and justice, hope and goodwill. Even though justice and brotherhood are values unquestionably accepted all over the world by everyone, irrespective of one’s religion or political ideology, they are yet to be put into practice. It is the task of every believer and every Franciscan, to listen to the cry of the poor and the needy, to reach out in meeting their spiritual and physical needs.
Brothers, we are challenged once again, to be ‘on mission’ like Jesus to the world of today, a world of division, hatred, greed, exploitation, violence, sin and death. To be ‘on mission’ signifies confronting squarely these negative forces in love, humility, and service even to death. Jesus repeats the same words today as he did long ago: “As the Father has sent me, I send you now” (Jn 14, 24). Let us remind ourselves with the words of our Seraphic Saint “Brothers, so far we have done very little, let us begin.” (Bulletin of the Custody)