By RT REV JOSEPH FRANZELLI MCCJ – Bishop Emeritus of Lira Diocese
On 9th October 2021, we joyfully celebrate the 59th anniversary of Uganda’s independence. We all know the meaning of independence. Probably, many people know something about Saint Daniel Comboni as well. However, his “dream of regeneration,” may need some explanation. Daniel Comboni’s first mission to Africa in 1857 had miserably failed. He himself almost died. Many other attempts to reach and evangelize the Centre of Africa had also ended with the premature death of many missionaries: 46 in just 16 years, none of them older than 50 years! Instead of giving up, as many people were advising him to do, Comboni kept reflecting for years on the reasons
of such failure. There had to be another method and approach to overcome this apparently unsurmountable obstacle! He consulted, reflected and prayed. It is during one of these moments of intense meditation and prayer, kneeling at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome that on September 15th, 1864, he was suddenly enlightened from above. All the pieces of the puzzle came together, taking the form of a new “plan for the regeneration of Africa.” He went home, wrote for almost 60 hours and presented his New Plan to Pope Pius IX. In summary, here are the main points of his plan. The evangelization of Africa must be the work of the whole Church, involving the collaboration of all the missionary institutes and the support of the faithful, under the coordination of a central authority or committee.
Integral development of Africa. Together with the preaching of the gospel, the missionary activity must aim at the human education and formation of the people. To this end, the plan foresees the establishment of many centres throughout the continent, where young men and women will receive a spiritual formation together with a basic scholastic education, made practical by a down to earth approach and the learning of various arts and skills, with emphasis on agriculture for men and domestic
skills for women. Those more gifted will then proceed to higher institutions,
like the universities (at least four) to be established in strategic places along
the coasts of the continent. The young people formed in these training centres and universities will in turn be the ones to go and share their faith and practical knowledge/skills with other people, spreading the “gospel and civilization.”
Save Africa by the Africans. This motto summarizes the dream and strategy of Comboni. At a time when some people even doubted that Africans had a soul, Comboni did not see the Africans just as passive receivers of the gospel. He wanted them to become the first and
main actors of the evangelization and development of Africa: missionaries to their own brothers and sisters, building their own future. Women too were to play an important role in this task. The final result of the plan was the progressive creation of a local Church led by Africans and a civil society able to support itself.
Re-generation of Africa. This is indeed the dream, the purpose of the plan.
“At a time when some
people even doubted that
Africans had a soul, Comboni
did not see the Africans just as
passive receivers of the gospel.
He wanted them to become the
first and main actors of the
evangelization and development
of Africa unfair to the young
men and women.”
An inner change, the gift of a new life coming from Christ, built on the
traditional African values, enriched and transformed by the Gospel. In the light of faith, while slavery is still rampant in the continent, Comboni does not see the Africans as slaves but as free children of God, called to be part of the same family. He believes in their dignity, he trusts in their capacity. For God and for Africa. The plan is the fruit of love. God’s love, manifested by Christ who died on the cross to save all men, of every time and race. From the pierced Heart of Jesus, it reaches out and inflames the heart of Comboni, compelling him to go to and share the same love with his
African brothers and sisters. Born from the contemplation and prayer on the tomb of St. Peter, the plan of Comboni, embodying his dream, is an act of love for God and for Africa, to which he definitely consecrates his life, with the cry “Africa or death!” Finally, what strikes in Comboni’s plan is the ability to learn from the experiences and mistakes of the past, together with the creativity and the courage to try new ways for the evangelization of Africa. Now, what does this have to do with the celebration of the independence of our country? How can a plan written over 150 years ago be relevant to our situation today? Going over the main points of Comboni’s plan can indeed provoke some interesting reflections. We thank God for all that has been achieved in these 59 years of independence and for all those who contributed to the development of our country. However, we must honestly assess also what is still missing, the homework we are left with to bring to maturity the fruits of independence, to make Uganda a better place for all her children. Working together, in collaboration and dialogue, as a family, for the good of all Ugandans, without discrimination and exclusion. Has it happened in the past? Is it happening now, between government
and opposition, different ethnic, social, political and religious groups? Is Uganda a family where all citizens enjoy equal rights and contribute to the common good? Our task and responsibility as Christians. We are the majority in Uganda. Up to now, all our presidents have been Christians, with the exception of Idi Amin. All our Church leaders are Ugandans. Jesus has given us a clear task and mission: “You are the salt of the earth,
the light of the world.” When complaining about the past and present situation, we should first ask ourselves: “How are we doing?”
Integral development and freedom. The traditional slave trade is now
over, replaced by human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. A purely
material vision of development generates greed and the mortal virus
of corruption at all levels. Where is the independence of the victims of poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, land wrangles? Where is the freedom of those who do not have access to education, health care, equal job opportunities? Courage to learn, courage to change.
What have we learnt from the tragic mistakes, wars and divisions of our past? Development is not just keeping the status quo. It entails getting new people, finding new ways. Are we ready and willing to try? Above all, we need love. Love for God and our country. When we forget God and
we are not motivated and empowered by His love, there is no way that we can contribute to the building up and the re- generation of a truly independent, free and prosperous Uganda. It is now up to each one of us to
reflect and act. Happy Independence celebrations! For God and our Country!
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