ROME, MARCH 24, 2002 (ZENIT.org).- An Irish missionary slain Thursday in Uganda had been a vocal critic of the army´s use of violence and was recently beaten up by soldiers, the dead priest´s superiors said.
Father Declan O´Toole, 31, of the Mill Hill Missionary congregation, was killed while working in the remote region of Kotido in northern Uganda. Two soldiers have been arrested in the killing, the army said.
According to a witness, the priest was driving home with two companions when a man in a soldier´s uniform stepped onto the road and opened fire on the three men. An Anglican minister who was traveling behind in a separate vehicle saw the incident and managed to escape the scene.
Mill Hill Father Joseph Jones said of the slain priest: “He was a lovely, redheaded young man from Galway and was the life and soul of the party. He studied theology in London and came back to Ireland in 1997 for ordination. We are absolutely shattered to lose such a bright young man.”
Father Jones said that Father O´Toole had traveled to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, last October to meet with Irish President Mary McAleese when she toured the country to thank Ireland´s missionaries.
Father O´Toole was the Mill Hill Order´s first priest among the Karamojong people of Uganda. The mission opened April 2, 1998. A year later the relative peace of the locality was shattered by the arrival of a force of Ugandan army soldiers.
They had come to recover stolen cattle and were attacked by Karamojong warriors. Twenty soldiers died in the fighting.
Two months later, in August 1999, the military responded with counterattacks. The mission became a refugee center, sheltering about 150 people from the constant bombing, shelling and terrorizing of the countryside.
Father O´Toole´s superiors acknowledged that the young priest had protested about the army´s violence. For the past 18 months, he also had been involved in helping to bring peace and reconciliation to the Karamojong´s warring tribes.
A government initiative was launched recently to disarm the warriors, and the authorities had asked the Church to help in the process. In an article on his work, Father O´Toole wrote: “We really hope and pray that the disarming will happen without violence and in the meantime we renew our efforts to discover the presence of Christ among the Karamojong and make him known to all.”
Father O´Toole is the second Mill Hill priest to be shot dead in two years. Minnesota-born Father John Kaiser, an outspoken critic of corruption, was killed in Kenya two years ago.
On Saturday, the Ugandan army arrested two soldiers for Father O´Toole´s murder, a military spokesman said in statements published by Agence France-Presse.
“Our soldiers are suspected of having killed him; we have arrested two of them,” commander Shaban Bantariza said. He said the motives for the murder are still unknown.
Ugandan Minister of Defense Amama Mbabazi expressed the government´s sympathy for Father O´Toole´s death to the Catholic Church and the missionary´s family and friends.