[Austen Ivereigh] Francis spent Friday evening and Saturday in Uganda, urging people to build on the example of its famous martyrs, and listening to harrowing stories of suffering.
On his arrival, Pope Francis at the State House in Entebbe linked the witness of the martyrs to Ugandan national values, urging its leaders to be transparent, honest, and just. Then he went to Munonyo, site of the martrys’ shrine 10 miles from Kampala, to address catechists and teachers.
The next day, Saturday, he paid an early-morning visit to the shrine museum, looking shocked as he heard how the 45 martyrs — 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics — were executed on the orders of King Mwanga II in the late nineteenth century. The martyrs, canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964, were young men in the king’s court. In some accounts, they were horribly killed after resisting the sexual advances of the king on grounds of their faith.
At the open-air Mass at the shrine attended by close to half a million people, Pope Francis avoided reference to the sexual issue (see Crux), instead urging them to emulate the example of the martyrs to become “missionary disciples”. “If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be,” he told them (text below).
Later, in Kampala, he urged young people to see the martyrs as examples of how prayer can transform “bad experiences into hope.” In an off-the-cuff address (the prepared version is here, actual text below), he responded to two stories of young Ugandans, Emmanuel Odokonyero and Winnie Nansumba. The first had been kidnapped and tortured by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which for 20 years ravaged northern Uganda. The second had lost both parents to AIDS, and was born HIV-positive in a country where more than 7 percent of Ugandan adults have the virus.
Francis spoke to them of the transforming power of prayer, and the way that suffering can be turned to good. “In your veins, the blood of martyrs flows,” he told them. “That is why your faith is so strong.”
Francis went on to Kampala’s Nalukolongo district where the Good Shepherd Sisters run a home for 102 elderly and people with severe disabilities. He said the Gospel commanded Christians to go out to the peripheries of society, and to find Christ in the suffering and those in need. “The Lord tells us, in no uncertain terms, that is what he will judge us on”, he told them.
He ended an 11-hour day with an address to priests and religious at St Mary’s Cathedral, Kampala.
“Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples”, he told them.
Texts from Saturday in Uganda follow:
(1) Pope Francis homily at the Catholic Shrine of the Martyrs of Namugongo (Uganda): Saturday, 28 November 2015
“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone “to the end of the earth”. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.
We too have received the gift of the Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, but also so that we may bear witness to Jesus and make him everywhere known and loved. We received the Spirit when we were reborn in Baptism, and we were strengthened by his gifts at our Confirmation. Every day we are called to deepen the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life, to “fan into flame” the gift of his divine love so that we may be a source of wisdom and strength to others.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love. I think of Saints Joseph Mkasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechized by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times. Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross.
If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be. To our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us. This openness to others begins first in the family, in our homes where charity and forgiveness are learned, and the mercy and love of God made known in our parents’ love. It finds expression too in our care for the elderly and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned.
The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is the legacy which you have received from the Uganda martyrs – lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit, lives which witness even now to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world.
May the Uganda martyrs, together with Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the fire of his divine love!
Omukama Abawe Omukisa! (God bless you!)
(2) Pope Francis’ unscripted Address to Ugandan Youth: November 28, 2015, Kololo airstrip, Kampala (transcription: Zenit).
I listened with much sorrow in my heart to the testimonies of Winnie and Emmanuel. But as I was listening, I asked myself a question: Can a negative experience serve for something in life? Yes.
Both Winnie and Emmanuel have suffered negative experiences. Winnie thought she had no future. That the life before her was against a wall. But Jesus showed her little by little that he can make a great miracle in life. That he can transform a wall into a horizon. A horizon that opens to the future. In the face of a negative experience — as many of us who are here have had negative experiences — there is always the possibility of opening a horizon. Of opening it with the door of Jesus. Today, Winnie has transformed her depression, her bitterness into hope.
And this isn’t magic. This is the work of Jesus. Because Jesus is Lord. Jesus can do everything. And Jesus suffered the most negative experience in history. He was insulted, he was rejected, he was killed. And Jesus, by the power of God, rose again. He can do the same thing in each one of us with each negative experience. Because Jesus is Lord.
I can imagine — and all of us together, let us imagine — the suffering of Emmanuel. When he saw that his companions were tortured. When he saw that his companions were assassinated. Emmanuel was courageous. He took heart. He knew that if they found him, the day he escaped, they would kill him. He took a risk. He trusted in Jesus. And he escaped. And today we have him here, after 14 years, with a degree in administration sciences.
All is possible. Our life is like a seed; to live, we must die. And sometimes, it is to die physically, like Emmanuel’s companions. To die as Charles Lwanga and the martyrs of Uganda died. But through this death, there is life. A life for everyone. If I transform the negative into positive, I am triumphant. But this can only be done with the grace of Jesus.
Are you certain of this? I didn’t hear! Are you certain? Are you ready to transform all the negative things of life into positive things? Are you ready to transform hate into love? Are you ready to transform, to want to transform, war into peace?
You must be aware that you are a people of martyrs. Through your veins flows the blood of martyrs. And because of this, you have the faith and the life that you have now. And this life is so beautiful that it is called the pearl of Africa.
It seems that the microphone doesn’t work well. Sometimes we ourselves don’t work well. Yes or no? And when we don’t work well, to whom do we have to ask help? I don’t hear you. Louder!
We have to ask Jesus. Jesus can change your life. Jesus can break down all of the walls that you have before you. Jesus can make of your life a service for others.
Some of you might ask me: For this, is there a magic wand? If you want Jesus to change your life, ask him. And this is called prayer. Did you understand? To pray. I ask you: Do you pray? Are you sure? Pray to Jesus because he is the savior. Never stop praying. Prayer is the strongest weapon that a youth has.
Jesus loves us. I ask you: Does Jesus love some people and not others? Does Jesus love everyone? Does Jesus want to help everyone? Then open the doors of your heart and allow him to come in.
Allow Jesus to enter into my life. And when Jesus comes into your life, he helps you to fight. To fight agains all of the problems that Winnie spoke of. Fight against depression, fight against AIDS, to ask help to rise above these situations. But always to fight. Fight with my desire, and fight with my prayer. Are you ready to fight? Are you ready to want the best for yourselves? Are you ready to pray, to ask Jesus to help you in the fight?
And a third thing that I want to tell you: All of us are in the Church, we belong to the Church, right? And the Church has a Mother. What’s her name? I can’t hear! Pray to our Mother. When a child falls, gets hurt, he starts to cry and goes to look for his mom. When we have a problem, the best thing we can do is go where our Mother is. And pray to Mary, our mother. Do you agree? Do you pray to the Virgin, our Mother? Here I ask, do you pray to Jesus and to the Virgin, our Mother?
So three things: rise above difficulties, transform the negative into positive, and third, prayer. Prayer to Jesus who can do everything. That Jesus enters into our hearts. And changes our lives. Jesus, who came to save me and gave his life for me. Pray to Jesus because he is the only Lord. And since in the Church, we are not orphans, and we have a mother, to pray to our Mother. And what is the name of our Mother? Louder!
I thank you very much for having listened to me. I thank you a lot because you want to change the negative into positive. That you want to fight against evil with Jesus at your side, and above all I thank you because you have the desire to never abandon prayer. And now I invite you to pray together to our Mother, that she protects us. Agreed? Everyone together.
(3) Pope Francis’ address to residents of the House of Charity in Nalukolongo, Kampala on Saturday, November 28m 2015
Thank you for your warm welcome. I wanted very much to visit this House of Charity, which Cardinal Nsubuga founded here in Nalukolongo. This is a place which has always been associated with the Church’s outreach to the poor, the handicapped, the sick. Here, in early times, slave children were ransomed and women received religious instruction. I greet the Good Samaritan Sisters who carry on this fine tradition, and I thank them for their years of quiet and joyful service in this apostolate.
I also greet the representatives of the many other apostolic groups who serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in Uganda. Above all, I greet the residents of this home and others like it, and all who benefit from these works of Christian charity. For this is a home. Here you can find love and care; here you can feel the presence of Jesus, our brother, who loves each of us with God’s own love.
Today, from this Home, I appeal to all parishes and communities in Uganda – and the rest of Africa – not to forget the poor. The Gospel commands us to go out to the peripheries of society, and to find Christ in the suffering and those in need. The Lord tells us, in no uncertain terms, that is what he will judge us on! How sad it is when our societies allow the elderly to be rejected or neglected! How wrong it is when the young are exploited by the modern-day slavery of human trafficking! If we look closely at the world around us, it seems that, in many places, selfishness and indifference are spreading. How many of our brothers and sisters are victims of today’s throwaway culture, which breeds contempt above all towards the unborn, the young and the elderly!
As Christians, we cannot simply stand by. Something must change! Our families need to become ever more evident signs of God’s patient and merciful love, not only for our children and elders, but for all those in need. Our parishes must not close their doors, or their ears, to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian discipleship. In this way we bear witness to the Lord who came not to be served, but to serve. In this way we show that people count more than things, that who we are is more important than what we possess. For in those whom we serve, Christ daily reveals himself and prepares the welcome which we hope one day to receive in his eternal kingdom.
Dear friends, by simple gestures, by simple prayerful actions which honour Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters, we can bring the power of his love into our world, and truly change it. I thank you once more for your generosity and love. I will remember you in my prayers and I ask you, please, to pray for me. I commend all of you to the loving protection of Mary, our Mother, and I give you my blessing.
Omukama Abakuume! (God protect you!)
(4) Pope Francis address to priests, religious men and women, and seminarians of Uganda in Kampala at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Saturday 28 November.
Dear Brother Priests, Religious and Seminarians,
I am happy to be with you, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I especially thank the speakers for bearing witness to your hopes and concerns, and, above all, the joy which inspires you in your service to God’s people in Uganda.
I am pleased, too, that our meeting takes place on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, a season which invites us to look to new beginnings. This Advent we are also preparing to cross the threshold of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which I have called for the whole Church.
As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I would ask you two questions. First: who are you, as priests or future priests, and as consecrated persons? In one sense, the answer is an easy one: surely you are men and women whose lives have been shaped by a “personal encounter with Jesus Christ” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3). Jesus has touched your hearts, called you by name, and asked you to follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.
The Church in Uganda has been blessed, in its short yet venerable history, with a great cloud of witnesses – lay faithful, catechists, priests and religious – who forsook everything for the love of Jesus: homes, families, and, in the case of the martyrs, their own lives. In your own lives, whether in the priestly ministry or in your religious consecration, you are called to carry on this great legacy, above all with quiet acts of humble service. Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples. May we never forget that our “yes” to Jesus is a “yes” to his people. Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.
A second question I would ask you tonight is: What more are you called to do in living your specific vocation? Because there is always more that we can do, another mile to be walked on our journey.
God’s people, indeed all people, yearn for new life, forgiveness and peace. Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us. I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace. If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this Cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of his mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries.
All of us know well how difficult this can be. There is so much work to be done. At the same time, modern life also offers so many distractions which can dull our consciences, dissipate our zeal, and even lure us into that “spiritual worldliness” which eats away at the foundations of the Christian life. The work of conversion – that conversion which is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus (cf. Mk 1:15) – must be carried out each day, in the battle to recognize and overcome those habits and ways of thinking which can fuel spiritual complacency. We need to examine our consciences, as individuals and as communities.
As I mentioned, we are entering the season of Advent, which is a time of new beginnings. In the Church we like to say that Africa is the continent of hope, and with good reason. The Church in these lands is blessed with an abundant harvest of religious vocations. This evening I would offer a special word of encouragement to the young seminarians and religious present. The Lord’s call is a source of joy and a summons to serve. Jesus tells us that “it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). May the fire of the Holy Spirit purify your hearts, so that you can be joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel. You have a beautiful word to speak! May you always speak it, above all, by the integrity and conviction of your lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, my visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church. Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises. I will remember all of you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me!