Pope Francis has just left Uganda today, now nearing the end of his three-nation, six-day visit to Africa.
Father Torquato Paolucci, Italian Comboni missionary from Urbania, worked from 1972 to 2010 in Uganda. In the lead-up to the trip, he pointed out to ZENIT some particulars of this central African nation, which help us to understand better Pope Francis’ trip to that country.
ZENIT: What is Uganda’s main problem?
Father Paolucci: It’s the fight against corruption. In the beginning, this government did many things, including good things, but later it thought only of enriching itself. Therefore, there is a very wealthy class, while the majority of the people are poor.
ZENIT: Compared to the past, what is the present situation like?
Father Paolucci: General progress is notable – more streets, more freedom. This government has done a lot as opposed to the past one, but the ruling group is like a mafia, hence, everything is manipulated, including the elections that were held when I was there a few years ago. Money was plentiful; ballot boxes full of votes disappeared. There is much corruption. They only think of engaging in important business and not being caught. There will be political elections this coming February and many fear that the farce of other times will be repeated.
ZENIT: What do you think is the way out of this situation and how can the apostolic visit be of influence?
Father Paolucci: The main topic is to achieve more honesty, more attention to the poor and the sick. The people are very happy with this meeting they are going to have with Pope Francis, who is coming to celebrate 50 years of the Canonization of the martyrs of Uganda.
ZENIT: What message do these 22 martyrs give?
Father Paolucci: They converted to Catholicism thanks to the White Fathers, the missionaries of Africa of Cardinal Charles Lavigerie. And they were killed between 1885 and 1887, because they were Christians. Uganda’s martyrs were all laymen and the laity is very committed in Catholic Associations and initiatives.
ZENIT: How many Catholics are there in the country?
Farther Paolucci: About 45% of the population is Catholic, 25% Protestant and about 10% Muslim. The rest are animists and of other creeds.
ZENIT: And does the inter-religious dialogue work?
Father Paolucci: In the past, there was great tension in the relation between Catholics and Protestants. In addition, because in politics Protestants had the support of England, they always tried to marginalize the Catholics. However, as the latter were the great majority, there came a point where they were unable to do so. Afterwards, with the passing of the years a process of greater collaboration was begun in the social field. Not so much from the doctrinal point of view, but some meetings were held. In the main, coexistence is good in Uganda and there is collaboration, although in some areas the tensions of the past remain.
ZENIT: What is the situation with the Muslims?
Father Paolucci: They are primarily in the cities and in commerce. I did not find tension with the Muslims during the years I worked there. There were good relations, and we did many works with them. We have also made our hospitals and schools available to them. On some occasions I helped some young Muslims to go to school and also to college, because they didn’t go. There was a discreet relation; I am talking about five years ago. I don’t know if today there have been infiltrations of extremists.
ZENIT: Can you tell me briefly, what the Comboni missionaries work is in Uganda?
Father Paolucci: The Comboni missionaries arrived in Uganda in 1910, and they worked especially in the north of the country, near the border with Sudan. In the south, however,
In this last period, when the wars for power broke out with a tribal background — more than 20 years of war, destruction and massacres — the Comboni missionaries were the only whites who stayed in the territory, despite the fact that 13 of them were murdered. This has helped people to believe more in Jesus. They didn’t feel abandoned and, for many, we have become a sign of hope. Today the Church in Uganda has great vitality and many vocations, to the point that we have handed almost all our structures to the local Churches; so, we are withdrawing from the country – a bit because we are older and another bit because Uganda doesn’t need missionaries, because it has sufficient personnel to do the work of the Church and to go as missionaries to other countries. At present there are 130 Comboni missionaries in the country.