Pope Francis began his trip to Uganda this evening by encouraging leaders of the country to protect and help one another as members of one human family, regardless of different beliefs and convictions.
The Holy Father arrived in Uganda around 5 pm local time, just after concluding the Kenya leg of his three-country Africa visit. On Sunday, he flies to Central African Republic, before returning to Rome on Monday.
After a festive welcome at the airport in Entebbe, the Pontiff addressed members of government and the diplomatic corps at the State House.
Speaking in English, he said that his visit to Uganda is above all to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Uganda martyrs, but added that he hopes “my presence here will also be seen as a sign of friendship, esteem and encouragement for all the people of this great nation.”
Uganda is about 40% Catholic and 40% Protestant (mostly Anglican), with a significant (12%) Muslim minority.
Pope Francis referred to the Uganda martyrs as “true national heroes.” They were both Catholic and Anglican and were executed between November 1885 and January 1887.
“They remind us of the importance that faith, moral rectitude and commitment to the common good have played, and continue to play, in the cultural, economic and political life of this country,” Francis said. “They also remind us that, despite our different beliefs and convictions, all of us are called to seek the truth, to work for justice and reconciliation, and to respect, protect and help one another as members of our one human family.”
The Holy Father said his visit is also meant to draw attention to Africa as a whole, the continent looked to by the world as, he said, “the continent of hope.”
In addition to its natural resources, the Pontiff reflected, Uganda has been “blessed in its people: its strong families, its young and its elderly.”
The elderly, he emphasized, are “the living memory of every people. Their wisdom and experience should always be valued as a compass which can enable society to find the right direction in confronting the challenges of the present with integrity, wisdom and vision.”
The Pope also praised Uganda for its welcome of refugees, noting that the world’s response to the unprecedented movement of people in various regions is a “test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity, and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need.”
“Although my visit is brief,” the Pope said, “I hope to encourage the many quiet efforts being made to care for the poor, the sick and those in any kind of trouble. It is in these small signs that we see the true soul of a people. In so many ways, our world is growing closer; yet at the same time we see with concern the globalization of a ‘throwaway culture’ which blinds us to spiritual values, hardens our hearts before the needs of the poor, and robs our young of hope.”
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