YOZEFU SSALI and Ann Nakato were married 47 years. However, though both are Catholics, they had never formally married in the Church. But that glorious day came at last. Here they tell their story to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN):
Yozefu: “I was born in 1947, while Nakato was born in 1949. We studied at nearby schools and knew each other socially. I attended St. Aloysius Mitala Maria Primary School in central Uganda, and she attended St. Theresa’s Girls’ Primary School in the same area.
“Our friendship deepened and eventually developed into a romantic relationship. Soon, Nakato was pregnant with our first child. I wanted to meet her parents early, but she was hesitant.
“People were pessimistic about us getting married: we had only just met. But I told them that we were going to have children and that God would one day provide for a Church wedding. I knew in my heart that she was the one.
“I thank God that she gave me seven children: four boys and three girls, though one child died.
Ann: “After my primary education, I went to Trinity College in Nabbingo for my Junior One and Junior Two. However, I stopped in Junior Two, as my father could not afford the school fees.
One day, my grandmother told my father that she found a good man for me. There was a traditional introduction, but we did not have the money to have a formal Church wedding and celebration—so we began to live together as husband and wife.
“My husband was so protective and jealous. He often came home after 9 pm, and his food would be cold by that time. He would refuse to eat it and demand that I make a fresh meal, which I often did. I was not allowed to go to church or visit my loved ones. My mother visited me, and when she asked me to go somewhere with her, my husband would forbid it. He said that men would snatch me from him.
“I told my mother that I wanted to leave him, but she discouraged me. She would ask: ‘My daughter, where will you live? … Your father will be so mad.” My father was tough; he was also the head of the laity in our parish and if he had a daughter who was divorced, he would not be able to receive Communion. When I went home, my father would ask, ‘Where is the letter that shows that your husband has allowed you to visit? I could stay for only a short time.
“I never told my father about the hell I experienced in my marriage. Fortunately, people who came to our home witnessed what I went through and told our neighbors and members of the Church. A missionary heard about my predicament and told my father and the local priests that if they did not let me leave my husband’s home, he would eventually kill me.
“One day, my father and his sisters came for me, and they asked my husband if we could go to church. My husband consented. I left with my baby, who was still breastfeeding.
“It felt so nice to be free and mingle with people, and since I had suffered a lot, I vowed never to return. My other child was already at home. However, my father told me that I should take the children back to their father once I stopped breastfeeding, which I did. He asked me to come back, but I told him that unless he married me in Church, I would stay at my father’s house.
“He convinced me to come back, saying that the Church was concerned about my issues and that God would make it so that he and I could marry. Little did I know that there was a mass wedding coming up and that my husband knew about it. He told me that we would be wed at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Rubaga. The Church organized a mass wedding for couples who wanted to purify their marriage but did not have the resources to do so.
“God had finally answered my prayers. The Church provided the gown, the cake, the flowers, the decorations, and the reception. I am now officially married and able to receive Communion.
“Fortunately, Yozefu has become a good man. He has not beaten me, prevented me from going to church, or stopped me from taking part in any income-generating activities.”
“When you have unconditional love,” Yozefu says, “there is no mountain you cannot climb.”
In 2017, ACN supported the pastoral mission of the Church in Uganda with projects totaling more than $1.2 million.