Children in Uganda

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INTERVIEW: On Devotion to Uganda’s Martyrs, and on Recovering From War

75-year-old Missionary Notes Need for Message of Reconciliation Among Girls Abused by Guerrillas


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Pope Francis landed today in Uganda, the second country of his six-day visit to Africa. It is not the first time that this country receives a Pontiff’s visit. Paul VI visited it in 1969 and Saint John Paul II in 1993. And now the Argentine Pontiff goes to this country also as a “messenger of peace, “ as he announced days before his trip.

Antonia Sanchez Morocho, a Comboni missionary in the country, described to ZENIT the excitement over the Holy Father’s arrival, and she analyzed the social and political challenges of the nation, as well as those of the Church.

She also explained the significance of the Uganda martyrs and how the country recovered and continues to recover from the violence of the war of 1981-1986.

ZENIT: How is this time before the Holy Father’s arrival being lived? What hopes do the Ugandan people have with Pope Francis’ visit?

Sanchez: We are living it with much excitement, especially in the Catholic community. I think the hope is to be confirmed in the maturity of their faith and their right of full membership in the Catholic Church.

ZENIT: What are the Church’s great challenges in the country?

Sanchez: In my judgment, the greatest challenge is the formation of the local clergy. There are fantastic priests, totally dedicated to their ministry and to the service of the people, while in other cases there are lacks.

ZENIT: And from the social and political point of view?

Sanchez: This could be to reinforce the education of young people in some traditional values, such as solidarity, the common good, hospitality, etc. Globalization is “imposing” individualism and the idolatry of money, among other things.

ZENIT: What work do you do in your mission in Uganda?

Sanchez: Tomorrow, God willing, I will be 75, which means that I am “re-retired,” but as missionaries, and I believe women Religious in general, never retire while something can be done, as I have been for some months in our central House here in Uganda helping in the administration. Occasionally I continue to give Spiritual Exercises and one or another workshop in our Spirituality Center in Namugongo, which I coordinated up to a few months ago.

ZENIT: One of the keys of this papal visit will be the 50th anniversary of the Canonization of the 22 Ugandan martyrs. In what way does the example of these martyrs continue to be present in the Ugandan people?

Sanchez: Devotion to the martyrs is impressive, not only in Uganda but also in other countries of Africa. There are constant pilgrimages throughout the year. For the martyrs’ feast on June 3, the gathering of pilgrims is massive. For weeks before there are people sleeping on straw mats around the Shrine; whether it is raining or cold, they are there. If asked why they come so early to suffer cold and sleep on the ground, the answer is: “the martyrs suffered more for their faith.”

ZENIT: The Holy Father said he is travelling to Africa as messenger of peace, an important message full of hope for these countries. In what way is the Gospel of Peace and Forgiveness transmitted to these people, where the consequences of violence are so tangible?

Sanchez: I think there is only one way to transmit the Gospel of Peace and Forgiveness, which is that of Jesus, which Francis proclaims to the four winds.  “Forgive your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

An example: In my years of missionary activity on the front line, I gave classes of religious education in a Women’s Institute in Gulu, in north Uganda. Some time after the war ended, I visited this school again. The present Directress (a former pupil of mine) explained how the pupils coexisted, the majority of whom had been raped by the guerrillas and experienced all sorts of abuses and even torture. She told me it was very difficult. The girls became very aggressive  and fought frequently among themselves. And so they created “The Reconciliation Room,” the hall of reconciliation. The girls always find someone there to listen to them and to guide them in the process of forgiving one another. They remain in the Room until they are able to be reconciled. Sometimes hours go by, but they succeed, the Directress told me.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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