Missionary Church, Witness of Mercy
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which the Church is celebrating, casts a distinct light on World Mission Sunday 2016: it invites us to consider the missio ad gentes as a great, immense work of mercy, both spiritual and material.
On this World Mission Sunday, all of us are invited to "go out" as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.
By virtue of the missionary mandate, the Church cares for those who do not know the Gospel, because she wants everyone to be saved and to experience the Lord’s love. She “is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12) and to proclaim mercy in every corner of the world, reaching every person, young or old.
When mercy encounters a person, it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart; for from the beginning the Father has lovingly turned towards the most vulnerable, because his greatness and power are revealed precisely in his capacity to identify with the young, the marginalized and the oppressed (cf. Deut 4:31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4). He is a kind, caring and faithful God who is close to those in need, especially the poor; he involves himself tenderly in human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children (cf. Jer 31:20). When speaking of the womb, the Bible uses the word that signifies mercy: therefore it refers to the love of a mother for her children, whom she will always love, in every circumstance and regardless of what happens, because they are the fruit of her womb. This is also an essential aspect of the love that God has for all his children, whom he created and whom he wants to raise and educate; in the face of their weaknesses and infidelity, his heart is overcome with compassion (cf. Hos 11:8). He is merciful towards all; his love is for all people and his compassion extends to all creatures (cf. Ps 144:8-9).
Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word. Jesus reveals the face of the Father who is rich in mercy; he “speaks of [mercy] and explains it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 2). When we welcome and follow Jesus by means of the Gospel and sacraments, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, become merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful; we can learn to love as he loves us and make of our lives a free gift, a sign of his goodness (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 3). The Church, in the midst of humanity, is first of all the community that lives by the mercy of Christ: she senses his gaze and feels he has chosen her with his merciful love. It is through this love that the Church discovers its mandate, lives it and makes it known to all peoples through a respectful dialogue with every culture and religious belief.
This merciful love, as in the early days of the Church, is witnessed to by many men and women of every age and condition. The considerable and growing presence of women in the missionary world, working alongside their male counterparts, is a significant sign of God’s maternal love. Women, lay and religious, and today even many families, carry out their missionary vocation in various forms: from announcing the Gospel to charitable service. Together with the evangelizing and sacramental work of missionaries, women and families often more adequately understand people's problems and know how to deal with them in an appropriate and, at times, fresh way: in caring for life, with a strong focus on people rather than structures, and by allocating human and spiritual resources towards the building of good relations, harmony, peace, solidarity, dialogue, cooperation and fraternity, both among individuals and in social and cultural life, in particular through care for the poor.
In many places evangelization begins with education, to which missionary work dedicates much time and effort, like the merciful vine-dresser of the Gospel (cf. Lk 13:7-9; Jn 15:1), patiently waiting for fruit after years of slow cultivation; in this way they bring forth a new people able to evangelize, who will take the Gospel to those places where it otherwise would not have been thought possible. The Church can also be defined as "mother" for those who will one day have faith in Christ. I hope, therefore, that the holy people of God will continue to exercise this maternal service of mercy, which helps those who do not yet know the Lord to encounter and love him. Faith is God’s gift and not the result of proselytizing; rather it grows thanks to the faith and charity of evangelizers who witness to Christ. As they travel through the streets of the world, the disciples of Jesus need to have a love without limits, the same measure of love that our Lord has for all people. We proclaim the most beautiful and greatest gifts that he has given us: his life and his love.
All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person. This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace. The mandate of the Gospel to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19-20) has not ceased; rather this command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary "impulse", as I noted in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: "Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).
This Jubilee year marks the 90th anniversary of World Missionary Day, first approved by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and organized by the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith. It is appropriate then to recall the wise instructions of my Predecessors who ordered that to this Society be destined all the offerings collected in every diocese, parish, religious community, association and ecclesial movement throughout the world for the care of Christian communities in need and for supporting the proclamation of the Gospel even to the ends of the earth. Today too we believe in this sign of missionary ecclesial communion. Let us not close our hearts within our own particular concerns, but let us open them to all of humanity.
May Holy Mary, sublime icon of redeemed humanity, model of missionaries for the Church, teach all men, women and families, to foster and safeguard the living and mysterious presence of the Risen Lord in every place, he who renews personal relationships, cultures and peoples, and who fills all with joyful mercy.
From the Vatican, 15 May 2016, Solemnity of Pentecost
Missionary Childhood Day celebrations
On 10th July 2016, thousands of children gathered at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cathedral Lugazi to celebrate their annual Children’s day. The celebration that was guided by the theme “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy Mt: 5 was presided over by Msgr. Dr. Richard Kayondo.
In his Homily, he stressed the motto of Children Helping Children. It was observed that this is what Bishop Charles Forbin intended to inspire in the children of his time, so that rich in spirit they could reach out to numerous children with their little sacrifices. Our situation today still calls on us to work hard to reach the ideals of our missionary mandate as members of Holy Childhood. The children world today is still confronted with lots of challenges that call for a united effort.
STATEMENT OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF UGANDA ON THE POST-ELECTION SITUATION IN THE COUNTRY
- 0 PREAMBLE
Dear Fellow Citizens, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda I present to you our statement on matters pertaining to the political situation in our country, especially after the general national elections which were held in February 2016. This statement was agreed upon in our plenary meeting, which took place from the 6thto the 10th of June 2016. In our meeting we discussed many issues concerning the Catholic Church in Uganda, including the concerns of our people regarding the political tension in the country.
You will all recall that before the national elections were held, we had a period of campaigns and Ugandans were filled with excitement and enthusiasm as they expressed support for their various political candidates at all levels. During this time, we were honoured with the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, whose presence saw our political leaders in their diverse political affiliations converge and meet peacefully at Namugongo Catholic shrine to celebrate with the Holy Father and the Catholic faithful the fiftieth anniversary of the canonization of the Uganda Martyrs.
In his address to the Government Authorities and Diplomatic Corps at State House, Entebbe, shortly after his arrival on 27th November 2015, Pope Francis described the Uganda Martyrs, both Catholics and Anglicans, as true national heroes who, among many other things, “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”. In fact, the Pope’s words and his presence among us gave us hope that we could go through the incoming elections in a new spirit of unity, mutual respect, freedom and peace.
- 0 On the current situation
In February 2016 before the general elections, we emphasized the need for all eligible voters to exercise their civic rights to vote in a free, secure and peaceful environment that was conducive for a harmonious and thriving nation. And in our two pastoral letters released before elections, we called upon all Ugandans, including state agencies, to work for peace before, during and after elections.
We are however concerned that after the previous various sets of elections in Uganda, despite what appeared to be a generally peaceful electoral environment, it is evident that a situation of uncertainty continues to hover over many parts of our Country. Many people appear to be unhappy, discouraged and bitter, as if hope for a better and a more united country had been lost.
The road towards Uganda’s political and leadership challenges is clearly stipulated in the preamble of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The preamble underscores our concerted efforts and further commitment to building a better future by establishing a socio-economic and political order through a popular and durable national constitution based on principles of unity, peace, equality, democracy, freedom, social justice and progress.
- 0 On the arrest of opposition politicians and supporters
After the announcement of the presidential election results, the media has been awash with reports about numerous arrests of opposition leaders and supporters and violent clashes among members of the population, especially between the opposition and security agencies. We are concerned that many of these people are not being given the justice that the laws of Uganda prescribe.
The highhanded treatment of political opponents and the arrests of their supporters no doubt breed feelings of injustice and intolerance, especially when Uganda is still grappling with nurturing its young multiparty political system. We would like to emphasize that political parties remain fundamental pillars of democracy and therefore lawful political activities should be respected.
At the same time, we call on the opposition leaders to ensure that they operate within the limits of the law, and to respect the rights of every Ugandan.
- 0 On the use of the judiciary to address political disputes
We have further noted the indirect pressure on the judiciary which is being used to solve disputes that ordinarily require a political solution as opposed to legal interventions. Courts of law remain temples of justice and should be respected as such. The judiciary should be mindful of Article 126 of the Constitution which underscores the fact that judicial power is derived from the people and shall be exercised in the name of the people. Let judges remember the word of God: “You must be impartial in judgment and give an equal hearing to small and great alike”(Deut.1:17) and “You must not pervert the law; you must be impartial; you will take no bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and ruins the cause of the upright” (Deut. 16:19).
- 0 On the unsolved post-election grievances among the people and politicians
From the above, it is evident and clear on the face of it that there are inner grievances amongst the citizens. A number of people continue to live under fear of violence and this makes it incumbent upon the new government to be open to dialogue. This will help to facilitate mutual understanding of one another especially as regards to people’s grievances, with a major purpose of finding consensus on key governance and leadership challenges.
In our pastoral letter on elections, we called upon government to address key governance issues which in our view were fundamental for fostering free and fair elections. These included among others:
a). Restoration of presidential term limits in the Constitution,
b). Building confidence among people regarding the credibility and independence of the Electoral Commission.
c). Reasonable intervention of security agencies in the electoral process.
The above and many other proposed electoral reforms were not given due attention by Government. We call upon the new Government to seriously address the issue of electoral reforms in order to realize sustainable democracy in Uganda.
In addition, we urge that National Commissions, like the Human Rights Commission, and the state institutions be strengthened and respected in their constitutional autonomy and role.
- 0 On the respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms
We would like to see that the new government gives priority to creating more opportunities for all people irrespective of their political background as a strategy to promote harmony and co-existence. We are concerned that before, during and after the February 2016 general elections, there was unnecessary clampdown on fundamental human rights and freedoms. This was the case, for instance, of the nationwide shutting down of social media and subsequently banning of the press from reporting certain political activities. We have to keep in mind that, worldwide, the media is key and remains pivotal in enhancing democratic governance. A free media is a sign of free and democratic society, which the government must respect as a partner institution in strengthening democratic governance.
- 0 General proposals and recommendations
From the above we make the following recommendations and proposals.
i. To the new Government of Uganda
Respect the rule of law and constitutionalism as key pillars for democratic governance. The law should not be sidelined in the interest of addressing political differences. Government and the security agencies should not use excessive force while responding to what would appear unpleasant in the eyes of the state. The security agencies are not privy to respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms. As stated in our national constitution, the fundamental human rights are inherent and not granted by the state.
ii. To the Judiciary as a temple of justice
We urge the Judiciary to exercise the independence expected of it under Article 126 of the Constitution and to dispense justice without fear and favor so that justice is not only done but seen to be done.
iii. To the Parliament of Uganda
The new Parliament should consider undertaking the needed constitutional reforms as one of their priority tasks. Consensus building during the process of debates and passing of bills should guide their business in parliament and avoid taking decisions in party caucuses without consulting the people they represent. All business in Parliament must be seen as a national matter and Members of Parliament must not forget the key role of the house as being an institution constitutionally mandated to enact laws which are just and do not undermine or contradict the traditional or Christian values for the protection of life and marriage, as in the case of abortion and divorce.
iv. To lead Political players
All political leaders should explore democratic dialogue for the electorate to discuss their grievances openly at various levels as a strategy to promote political accountability. We continue to call on political leaders to give priority to the politics of inclusion other than politics of exclusion.
v. To the people of Uganda
As we look at the aftermath of the election, we call on all citizens to maintain law and order and desist from any form of violence.
vi. Dialogue on political reforms.
We recommend that the various stakeholders start dialogue on some of the key governance questions with a view of arriving at consensus on issues such as:
• The composition of the Electoral Commission;
• Reinstating of the term limits;
• Continuous dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition political parties.
All this can be done where political leaders consider engaging in a genuine National Democratic Dialogue to enhance and deepen democratic governance as a basis for promoting the common good.
- 0 General conclusion.
Uganda is our motherland and we are all brothers and sisters. We should treasure this beautiful country and endeavor to live in peace, unity and love. Let us remember the history of Uganda and avoid going back to our dark past. Let us promote political dialogue, reconciliation, justice and peace at all levels.
Let us recover the good spirit of national unity and hope prevailing during the visit of the Pope. Let us remember his words challenging the “heirs of the Uganda Martyrs” to have courage, stand united and turn the negative aspects of our current situation into opportunities for growth, building up together a better, united and peaceful nation for the good of all its citizens.
As leaders of the Catholic Church in Uganda, we remain committed to supporting and advocating for values that uphold constitutionalism and the rule of law. We will work with all stakeholders to ensure that the rule of law, respect for human rights and democratic governance is promoted.
For God and My Country
Most Rev. John Baptist Odama
Archbishop of Gulu, and
Chairman of Uganda Episcopal Conference