Pope hon­ors mar­tyrs on land­mark Africa tour

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KAM­PALA: Large crowds of Ugan­dans greeted Pope Fran­cis yes­ter­day as he held a mass youth rally and hon­oured mar­tyred Chris­tians on his land­mark trip to Africa, which he dubbed “the con­ti­nent of hope”.

The 78-year-old pon­tiff was greeted by wild cheers and singing at a shrine to the mar­tyrs at Na­mu­gongo, just out­side the cap­i­tal Kam­pala, that hon­ours more than 40 Chris­tians who were ex­e­cuted in the 19th cen­tury for re­fus­ing to re­cant their faith.

“Pope Fran­cis we love you!”, young Chris­tians chanted at a youth rally at the Kololo grounds in Kam­pala, as thou­sands danced to pump­ing mu­sic, cheer­ing as the pon­tiff leaned out of the pope­mo­bile to kiss ba­bies. Over 100,000 peo­ple had waited from be­fore dawn at the open-air shrine to at­tend the mass, a high­light of his visit to Uganda, the sec­ond leg of his trip af­ter Kenya, and be­fore trav­el­ling to war-torn Cen­tral African Repub­lic (CAR) to­day.

A to­tal of 45 Catholics and Protes­tants, many of them young­sters work­ing as royal pages, were ex­e­cuted by King Mwanga of Bu­ganda-a 19th cen­tury king­dom that was lo­cated in the south of present-day Ugand­abe­tween 1885 and 1887.

At is­sue was their re­fusal to com­ply with the king’s sex­ual ad­vances to­wards them and other young boys in the court. “To­day, we re­call with grat­i­tude the sac­ri­fice of the Uganda mar­tyrs,” Fran­cis said at the Na­mu­gongo shrine where 26 of them were burned alive on June 3, 1886. “Not only were their lives threat­ened but so too were the lives of the younger boys un­der their care,” he said. “They were fear­less in bring­ing Christ to oth­ers, even at the cost of their lives.”

Gay rights in fo­cus

Catholic faith­ful from neigh­bor­ing wartorn South Su­dan were also among the wor­ship­pers, hav­ing trav­elled 12 hours by bus to catch a glimpse of the Ar­gen­tine pope, who has made hu­mil­ity and help for the poor a hall­mark of his ten­ure.

Fight­ing poverty has been a key theme of his visit but some of the faith­ful were hop­ing to hear the pon­tiff’s thoughts on other is­sues such as gay rights. “The chal­lenges we have in Uganda are early preg­nan­cies, drug abuse and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity,” said 18-year old school­girl Joyce Adong, dressed in her uni­form and car­ry­ing rosary beads.

Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity re­mains il­le­gal in many coun­tries in Africa, in­clud­ing Kenya and Uganda, where law­mak­ers passed tough anti-ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity leg­is­la­tion in 2013 that was later over­turned on a tech­ni­cal­ity.

Ugan­dan gay rights activists had asked to meet the pope, who has said gay peo­ple should not be marginal­ized, but it was not clear if the meet­ing took place.

Among the visi­tors from South Su­dan was Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir who held a brief pri­vate meet­ing with the pope, ac­cord­ing to a South Su­danese gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who gave no fur­ther de­tails.

“If there’s one coun­try he should visit, it’s South Su­dan,” said 37-year-old An­thony Beda from South Su­dan, wear­ing a pope badge and wav­ing a flag with the pon­tiff’s face on it. “I want to hear his pow­er­ful words of unity and com­pas­sion,” Beda told AFP, say­ing it could help stop the civil war there. “I would love him to go... It would be a bless­ing.” In the midst of the crowds in Kam­pala, a po­lice­woman went into labour, giv­ing birth to a baby girl that she named Franch­esca-the fe­male version of Fran­cis, Uganda’s New Vi­sion news­pa­per re­ported.

Ar­rests in Kenya

Fran­cis, who railed against cor­rup­tion and wealthy mi­nori­ties who hoard re­sources at the ex­pense of the poor dur­ing his three days in Kenya, struck a more op­ti­mistic tone since ar­riv­ing in neigh­bour­ing Uganda late Fri­day. “The world looks to Africa as the con­ti­nent of hope,” he said in his open­ing speech, hail­ing Uganda’s out­stand­ing re­sponse in ac­com­mo­dat­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees from neigh­bor­ing war-torn states. — AFP

KAM­PALA: Crowds cheer Pope Fran­cis as he ar­rives at Kololo airstrip in Kam­pala yes­ter­day. Pope Fran­cis left Kenya for Uganda where he will spend two days be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, a coun­try wracked by sec­tar­ian con­flict. — AFP

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