Anglican and Roman Catholic 19th-century missionary martyrs honoured, but LGBT rights activists are left disappointed
Pope Francis has preached a message of reconciliation on a visit to Uganda, calling on people to reach out to “those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us” within local communities and in the conflict-ridden region.
On the fourth day of his Africa tour, the pontiff celebrated mass in front of 100,000 people at an open-air shrine to Christian martyrs in Namugongo, 10 miles outside the capital, Kampala. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986 and campaigning for re-electionin February, accompanied Francis to the mass. The government had ordered extensive repairs and renovations to the shrine ahead of the visit.
Referring to the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican martyrs commemorated at the shrine, Francis urged people to become modern-day missionaries “to our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us”.
“We need only to open our eyes and see the needs in our homes and our local communities to realise how many opportunities await us.”
Ernst Baryevuga, who was among the crowds lining the road to the shrine, said: “The pope’s visit is what we needed at a time when people are being divided on political lines. His message will bind us in love.”
The Christian martyrs were burned alive in the 1880s on the orders of Mwanga II, King of Buganda, who was alarmed about the growing influence of Christianity. According to historians, their fate was sealed by their rebuff of the king’s homosexual advances.
Homophobia is rife in present-day Uganda. A law signed last year by Museveni compelled citizens to report suspected homosexual activity to the police, triggering increased levels of prejudice, violence and discrimination against the gay community. The law was later annulled but is expected to be reintroduced.
Despite the hopes of LGBT activists and supporters, the pope made no mention of the persecution of gay people in his homily. However, his message that “as members of God’s family, we are to assist one another, to protect one another” was seen as an appeal against discrimination.
He also urged the church in Uganda to “assist young couples to prepare for marriage, to encourage couples to live the marital bond in love and fidelity, and to assist parents in their duty as the first teachers of the faith for their children”.
The mass at the shrine – which attracts thousands of pilgrims each year from Uganda and neighbouring countries – marked the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of the Catholic martyrs by Pope Paul VI.
On the eve of Francis’s arrival in Uganda, the parliament passed a bill giving authorities sweeping powers to approve, inspect and dissolve NGOs in a move that could lead to the imprisonment of activists. Critics have said the move is aimed at suppressing criticism of the government.
Since landing at Entebbe airport on Friday, the pope has praised Uganda for being open to refugees from countries beset by internal conflicts, such as South Sudan, Burundi and Congo DRC. Uganda has been a key player in the region either as part of the peacekeeping forces or as peace negotiator.
The pope held a private meeting with President Salva Kiir of South Sudan shortly after his arrival. Details were not released, but it is believed that the pontiff pushed for peace in the continent’s youngest nation, where millions have been displaced and more than 10,000 killed.
After leaving Kampala , the pope is due to fly to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, for a 26-hour visit.
by Harriet Sherwood and Alon Mwesigwa
Source – EIN World News Report