His Excellency Michael August Blume is currently the Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary. He has served in Ghana, Rome and lately Uganda. He shared his journey in Africa, and particularly Uganda before his departure to Hungary in September with Beatrice Akite Wanyama
How has your work experience in Uganda been?
I have been in Africa for 29 years. Leaving Uganda for me also means leaving Africa. I do not anticipate coming back for usually once Nuncio’s leave, they stay away. I spent 16 years in Ghana, until 1990, 15 years in Rome and I have been in Uganda since 2005, thus thirteen years. My work experience in Uganda has been hands on as I tried to do a little bit of almost everything.
Working as a Nuncio, I am always trying to find an equilibrium between activities that take me out of the Nunciature and those which mean I have to stay within. I have been happy to be able to go to so many places in Uganda. I have at least been able to put foot in every diocese in Uganda, some even several times as they needed more of my presence due to particular troubles. It was not only going out to attend to affairs of the church. There were a number of bishops with whom I made personal visits in the different parts of the country and that gave me a chance to see many things, meet different people, meet many different cultures and languages. These visits were not simply personal but based on my mission of representing the Holy Father and bringing something of the Holy Father and his ways of doing things to people, explaining his teaching to people. I tried to explain that both by what I was doing and saying.
In July, I went to the diocese of Fort portal at the border of Congo. There was a large group of Refugees that I came across. That was exactly the same week that the Holy Father had taken a trip to an Island of Lampedusa and he was meeting Refugees. That inspired me to be in touch with the Refugees, rather than the comfort of Kampala. I have also been part of the Pontifical Council of Migrants of the Vatican for many years following and helping refugees. And in the midst of the chaotic moment, we were able to go to other Refugee camps. That was when I found out that the activities of the office of the Prime Minister has a special working relationship with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which the Holy See is a founding member.
The UNHCR is one of the organizations that I am personally involved in. When I was in Rome, one of the things that I did from time to time was being part of the meetings of UNHCR at the head quarters in Geneva as a full member. This involved making everyone know that the Catholic Church cares for you, brings you the peace of Christ. The UNHCR has a mission that correlates with the missions of others, for example bringing water, food and medicine to the people. For example, when we visited the Refugees at the border of Congo in Fort portal, we gave out blankets to them. I have been privileged to go to places where there were real crisis against the church. I went several times to Lira and Arua where there were rebellions against Bishops. There, I tried to work with all the Bishops to reconcile with the community. We tried to work towards reconciliation and I was more acting as a peace maker. I have also been able to do a lot of cooperation with Bishops conferences where we had regular contacts with Bishops here at the Nunciature and in Nsambya. All in all, I have been able to work towards bringing peace of Christ to all.
How can animation in Uganda be improved?
What are we animating for? We are animating that our communities really be communities that are out-going and are filled with the mercy and love of Christ; that are prayerful and try to bring this mercy and love of Christ especially to those people who are on the peripheries of the society as the Holy Father often emphasizes. The Holy Father says, ‘Don’t lock the treasure of your faith in a safe.’ This has always motivated me, and should motivate everyone. Every person who has been confirmed has to go out and proclaim the good news to all. Let us be witnesses of the Lord wherever we are. Priests should encourage the Apostolate of the Lay people to reach out to the people as they are able to go to more places that priests cannot go to. Likewise, help people discover their vocations and meet the love of Christ from time to time.
We need to go to the places, where the Lord is calling, like in the vision of St. Paul, “come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts: 16:9) In Africa, people are not afraid to talk about their faith. We need to put a new mind and be active at various levels. Get others enthusiastic about Christ; evangelize like Jesus did using parables. The Holy Spirit works in marvellous ways, you just keep on. Do things which are daring. I applaud the members of the Neocatechumenal way who last year went on to do ‘street preaching’ and take peace to everyone.
What do you feel you should have done during your tenure in Uganda that you didn’t do?
I didn’t manage to visit in depth all the dioceses. There are a number of Bishops I was to meet which I think my successor will prioritize on. I wish I could have gone to many more places and I should have spent more time praying for people. Though it is never too late.
How did you feel after organizing a successful visit of Pope Francis in 2015.
The Pope’s visit to Uganda was a success. I was only a part of the organisers.
There were various committees meeting frequently trying to imagine the needs of the guests at the various places like in Namugongo. It was successful; things went as they were planned as there were few unforeseen challenges. My biggest fear in hosting the Pope was people getting hurt and injured in the crowd. Though the actual event was a success, our task as the Church now is the follow through. I have tried whenever possible to talk about the Pope’s visit and make references to it and tried to make people understand that he visited three countries and the speeches that he gave in the three are coordinated.
We should view the visit as a room for reflection on the purpose of the visit. That is, we should see the pope’s visit in the countries as a unit. For example, he talked about corruption in Nairobi which is also affecting Uganda. For Uganda, Namugongo was a unique experience. We should not simply pride in the visit but we should keep referring to the visit, reminding ourselves of the importance and listening to what he said and taking it seriously, praying, asking God for the courage and wisdom to make meaning of the message that he left behind.
What is your last word to the people of Uganda?
I thank the people of Uganda for their hospitality and love. For the love and generosity for Refugees, receiving and taking care of strangers. This is wonderful. I admire Ugandans for their long suffering and for their patience in doing what is possible. I encourage them in their faith.
I have been in a parish with a very active parish priest, Fr. John Munghereza where people identify with the place. I see Mbuya and the presence of Reachout as a great expression of mercy. Reachout is a good initiative with a lot of healing and hope. Helping people find peace, as they are closer to the church and God. It is a grace to have the initiative which I can only encourage. Like that song, let us embrace Christ as we continue Marching united in Christ and Marching together to heaven.
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