Pope sees a land of hope
Pope Francis declared Africa a “land of hope” on his maiden pastoral visit to the continent, two years after his election to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. In meetings in Kampala, Uganda – his second stop during the six-day, three-nation tour – the pontiff challenged leaders to invest in the education and employment of a predominantly young African population.
The mismatch between a naturally endowed continent and impoverished citizens prompted the pope, an advocate for social justice and equality, to challenge leaders to allow natural resources to benefit everyone in their countries.
His view partly draws from the generosity of Uganda to host and help refugees to rebuild their lives in “security and dignity”. There are an estimated 230 000 refugees in the country, 125 000 of whom are South Sudanese nationals who fled the resurgence of war in December 2013, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
During the pope’s visit, Kampala was locked down for security reasons, with several streets closed for express runs by the papal entourage and VIPs.
At the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine in Namugongo, 15km outside the city, choristers sang and danced enthusiastically in a wellchoreographed performance that enthused the congregation. The crowd broke into wild cheers whenever the pope said something.
The pope arrived in a truck that had been converted into a popemobile, and he waved at and blessed the gathering. He departed in a small Kia car.
His visit came during Uganda’s third week of presidential campaigns and not only brought political foes together but prompted an unexpected handshake between President Yoweri Museveni, archrival Kizza Besigye – a retired military colonel – and Amama Mbabazi, the former prime minister.
The trio, until last week, had acrimonious exchanges while on the campaign trail, but those differences of opinion did not manifest themselves in the presence of the pope in Namugongo.
At yesterday’s homily, attended by South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, the pope invoked the central theme of his papacy – evangelisation – urging Catholics to get out of their spiritual enclosures and reach out to strangers to grow the flock.
The pontiff told the cheering faithful and dozens of bishops from across Africa: “If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the [holy] spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which [Jesus] Christ calls us to be.”
The evangelisation should target one’s own family and friends, but also “those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us”, he said.
He spoke while facing the shrine, where early Christian converts in the country were decapitated or set alight because of their faith.
“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,” the pope said, referring to the martyrs.
“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.”
The pontiff said the legacy of the Uganda martyrs should not be demonstrated through “occasional” public 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 go to the farthest corner of the world.”
Butagira is chief reporter for the Daily Monitor in Uganda
HOLY SOJOURN Pope Francis meets with Uganda’s president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (right) and his wife Janet (left) at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, on Friday