IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring
By Cindy Wooden
KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) — As Pope Francis encouraged Ugandan
Christians to draw inspiration from the 19th-century Ugandan Martyrs, he
carried with him graphic images of the horrors the 45 Anglican and Catholic
The pope made an early morning visit Nov. 28 to the Anglican
shrine and museum located on the site where many of the martyrs died. The main
exhibit features realistic statues of men being tortured, bound and thrown on a
Pope Francis had a look of shock on his face as Anglican
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda explained how the martyrs were executed on
the orders of King Mwanga II in the late 1800s.
Afterward, the pope celebrated a Mass outside the nearby
Catholic shrine to the martyrs. The shrine has an artificial lake, and Ugandan
security patrolled it in a little rubber boat throughout the liturgy.
In his homily, Pope Francis honored all the martyrs, noting
that they shared the same faith in Jesus and they offer a witness to “the
ecumenism of blood.”
Honoring the martyrs is not something to be done only on
their feast day, he said, but must be done daily through upright behavior and
loving care for others in the family, the neighborhood, at work and in society.
Keeping one’s eyes focused on God, he said, “does not
diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come.
Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world and helps us to reach out
to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good and to build a
more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and
protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.”
Heartbreaking modern challenges to faith led Pope Francis
to abandon the text he had prepared for an afternoon meeting with Ugandan
youths. Instead, he tried to respond directly to the young woman and young man
who addressed him, although the effort was plagued by technical problems with
Winnie Nansumba, 24, told the pope she was born HIV-positive
and, “as a young woman, I always found it hard to fall in love because I
thought I didn’t have a right to love and be loved.”
In the end, she said, she decided to use her story to teach
other youths about HIV and AIDS, particularly that “we must respect our
life and that of others,” changing behavior to prevent the spread of the
“Take charge of your life and know your (HIV)
status,” she told the estimated 150,000 youths gathered at the Kololo
airstrip to see the pope. “AIDS is real, but it can be prevented and
More than 7 percent of Ugandan adults are HIV-positive and
tens of thousands continue to be infected each year. According to U.N. AIDS,
because of sexual violence and lack of access to education, young women are
particularly in danger in Uganda. U.N. figures estimate that 4.2 percent of
Ugandan women aged 15-24 are HIV-positive while 2.4 percent of men that age
Pope Francis did not speak specifically about AIDS or its
prevention, but he spoke instead about overcoming despair and depression and fighting
for one’s life.
He also went on at length about courage, referring both to
Nansumba and to Emmanuel Odokonyero, who had talked about being kidnapped by
the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in 2003, tortured and escaping after three
From the late 1980s and for more than 20 years, the Lord’s
Resistance Army terrorized Uganda, kidnapping thousands of children and forcing
hundreds of thousands of people to seek safety in camps for displaced persons.
“In your veins, the blood of martyrs flows,” the
pope told the two youths. “That is why your faith is so strong.”
The pope urged the young people to find positive challenges
in the negative events of their lives, to trust Jesus to transform their
suffering into joy and to turn to Mary when experiencing pain, just like a
child runs to his or her mother after falling and getting hurt.
In the early evening, the pope visited the House of Charity
in Kampala’s Nalukolongo neighborhood; the Good Shepherd Sisters run a home
there for 102 elderly and people with severe disabilities. The residents range
in age from 11 years to 107 years, said Bishop Robert Muhiirwa of Fort Portal,
chair of the Ugandan bishops’ health commission.
“Our families need to become ever more evident signs of
God’s patient and merciful love, not only for our children and elders, but for
all those in need,” the pope said. “Our parishes must not close their
doors or their ears to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian
Meeting with Uganda’s priests, religious and seminarians 11
hours after his day had begun, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of
remembering the martyrs by witnessing to the faith like they did, by remaining
faithful to their vocations and by praying.
The pope publicly thanked the Good Shepherd Sisters for the
“example of fidelity” they showed him at the House of Charity,
“fidelity to the poor, the infirm and the disabled because Christ is
Ugandan soil, “bathed by the blood of martyrs,”
always will need new witnesses to faith, he told the priests and religious.
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