By Sc. Jasper Ojok, MCCJ
It brings joy, admiration and a lasting memory to many people whenever they read, hear stories about or meditate on the pieces of arts of impeccable missionaries. In Uganda, we have vivid images and stories about incredible missionary men and women who worked tirelessly in witnessing and making known the salvific gospel of Christ among the indigenous peoples. Among the Acholi people, we remember the life and works of Fr. Dr. Ambrosoli Giuseppe, Fr. Tiboni the theologian and philosopher, whom I prefer to call “Tiboni the Wise” or Fr. Scalabrini; and among the Langi people, we remember the heroic sacrifice of Sr. Rachelle who followed the rebels wherever they moved pleading for the release of the abducted Aboke girls in 1996; or Fr. Albert Ocen who left Italy and became an ordinary diocesan priest in Lira Diocese witnessing to the gospel through construction of houses for women who give birth to twins.
There is Fr. Tomaino or Fr. Pitton, among others who worked and are still working among the Banyankole in Western Uganda. In West Nile region, we remember Fr. Benardi Sartori whose devotion to the blessed Mary is amazingly inspiring to many. Fr. William Nyadru who witnessed Christ in Karamoja for just three years and young Brother Godfrey Kiryowa who was martyred in Karamoja together with Fr. Mantovani. Missionary life is not a privilege. It is essentially a response to gospel witness willed by Christ in His command to His apostles to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt. 28:18-20). At our baptism, we not only become incorporated into the body of Christ as children of God, but we also assume common offices of Christ of kingship, priesthood and prophetic office.
The implication is, thus, that we also assume responsibility and duty towards ensuring the furtherance of missionary apostolate of the church into which we have now become full members. And we can do this in a whole host of ways such as intense prayers for the church and her mission, leadership in the local church and witnessing to the gospel of Christ by our own lives. Let me say something more on the aspect of missionary witness. By it, we develop attitude of solidarity with the people of God through Christian charity either directly or indirectly by supporting the mission works which are being championed by consecrated missionaries who serve us or are serving elsewhere in the world. This brings us to the crucial point of creating missionary awareness and animation among the lay people which is indeed a right and a responsibility to hearken to. But first, what is this missionary awareness and animation?
At its basic understanding, it is every form of activity carried out to create and keep alive in the church the awareness that every baptized Christian is called to witness and proclaim Jesus Christ to all people as well as generously support the missionary works undertaken by consecrated missionaries. Why is it necessary? Because it is an essential duty of Christian vocation to be a brother and a sister to one another. Secondly, it is necessary because it is a way of cooperation in the evangelization of other people so that they, too, may also know God. How can a lay faithful participate in missionary activity of the church? Through prayers and spiritual works of penance on behalf of other people, through the works of Christian charity given either materially or spiritually.
St. Daniel Comboni, while he toiled amidst the harsh climate of Africa generously worked hard to ensure that the whole world participate in the missionary apostolate in Africa. He knew that the rest of Christian humanity are essentially part of the Christian people in Africa. For this reason, he vehemently involved different people of the world to take part in the mission in central Africa through their prayers and financial support. Comboni also personally created correspondences with people of all kinds asking for their generous financial contributions in the evangelizing works in central Africa.
No one can refute the key place of finance in evangelization since the church in terms of her organization cannot run without financial support of her members. Therefore, it is the role and duty of both missionaries and lay faithful to promote, ask for and give, respectively, the help to the works of evangelization so that the good news of Christ reaches the people of God. In past years, European missionaries carried containers from their homelands
or were given money by benefactors from Europe for the missions in Africa; it is evident that this pattern is reversing. Partly, it is because African people are becoming missionaries and the European counterparts are reducing drastically in numbers. Even the generosity of benefactors in Europe has drastically reduced. In effect, the missionary apostolate of the church now looks towards Africa for fervent prayers and missionary support. This means, therefore, that our own people and Christians must now begin to support the mission of the church both locally and internationally through the apostolate of our own African missionaries who are evangelizing outside Africa.
This is our kairos! I believe in Uganda we have very many Christians who are really owning their faith and are ever ready to contribute towards the mission of the church. This is seen through the generous life of prayers of the people in our local communities for the suffering humanity, beginning from the neighbors and extending to the whole world. This is undoubtedly a maturation of the church in Africa, and particularly in Uganda! This point recalls the generous support that Christians in many outstations in parishes in Uganda give towards the support of the work of the church; we will always remain grateful towards their generous support.
Africa’s commitment towards her own evangelization, can be said to be a realization of the prophetic vision of St. Daniel Comboni when he made that poetic cry “Save Africa by Death.” Today in our continent, we notice a large group of missionary vocation. Most of the missionaries are sons and daughters of our own land. They are the humble men and women who grew up amidst their own people in their own socio-economic and political challenges, but were called by God to serve His people through the ministry of the church. What does this imply? It implies that the Christian laity cannot entirely wait for the contributions of these local missionaries to provide for everything that enhances the progress of Evangelization.
Rather, these African missionaries need the support of their own people and not look to Europe any longer for support. Just as the European missionaries looked towards their own people in Europe for help. It is here that we can commend heartily those Christians in our parishes who are dully supporting their local churches by giving foods items, money, clothes, etc.
I also remember the zealous evangelical works of our catechists. They are the people who are primary “planters” of faith; they teach faith through catechism. They witness Christ solidly among their fellow men and women and help a lot to bury the deceased Christian brothers and sisters in most of our Christian neighborhood. Through their coordination with the priests and missionaries, the catechists ensure that their local communities receive the sacraments, such as penance and Eucharist in which we commune with Christ the savior.
Given the missionary condition of our continent and Uganda in particular, we continue to ask the questions. How are these God’s work men able to realize the missionary dream of Jesus Christ which He charged His apostles to spread to all the ends of the earth? How are the missionaries able to continue making Christ’s spirit live among the people unless their missionary apostolate is supported by their people? The hour of the church in our time has indeed changed.
The church through her missionaries now look towards the generous support of the African people. Our help indeed comes from amidst us. This means that we are as well promoters of, through prayers, “our” own local vocation to priestly life or missionary life. As one family, we are also the people to support our children who are priests and missionaries who are laboring to spread the good news of Christ in the world. We must, therefore, not fail the missionary impetus of the church which we have been entrusted.
Let me re-echo the prophetic words from the homily of the Blessed Pope Paul VI during his apostolic visit to Uganda in 1969. He said: “By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves…you must now continue, upon this continent, the building up of the church.” The Pope also emphatically said that the missionary impetus must now arise from the heart of Africa itself following the impulse which has been given the faith by the missionary action of foreign countries. Pope Paul VI also said that by the fact that the church is by her very nature always missionary, there will be a time when missionary work in African will no longer be called a missionary apostolate in the technical sense, but rather a native, indigenous apostolate of Africa’s own. Yes! It is indeed now the time for Africa, Ugandans to stand up as a truly missionary continent/country where we are proud of being the guardians of the missionary actions of the church. Let us be proud and support the works of our own missionaries working amidst us as well as out of Africa.
Let me re-echo the prophetic words from the homily of the Blessed Pope Paul VI during his apostolic visit to Uganda in 1969. He said: “By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves…you must now continue, upon this continent, the building up of the church.” The Pope also emphatically said that the missionary impetus must now arise from the heart of Africa itself following the impulse which has been given the faith by the missionary action of foreign countries.
Pope Paul VI also said that by the fact that the church is by her very nature always missionary, there will be a time when missionary work in African will no longer be called a missionary apostolate in the technical sense, but rather a native, indigenous apostolate of Africa’s own. Yes! It is indeed now the time for Africa, Ugandans to stand up as a truly missionary continent/country where we are proud of being the guardians of the missionary actions of the church. Let us be proud and support the works of our own missionaries working amidst us as well as out of Africa.
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