WE SET off for Uganda, with a picnic lunch kindly prepared by the
White Sisters. We left the Congo at Kasini and ten minutes later
we entered Uganda at Mpondwe. The Frontier Officer was an African.
In the Congo the Officers were all Belgians but just after I had
carefully pointed this out to my Belgian companion he was triumphant
to find ,behind the Customs' Office three quite separate little
buildings marked "W.C.", one for Europeans, one for Indians
and one for Africans!
The Officer warned us that a car had been completely wrecked further
down the road by hippos. Evening was almost upon us and he warned:
"If you run into them, put out your lights, switch off the
engine, and sit still." I assured him we would obey to the
letter! We got to Virika mission in the dark: a foolish but sometimes
unavoidable thing to do. We had warthog meat for supper, killed
by Brother David Mubende, an African from Rubaga.
Even the name Virika sounds refreshing; it means the snows
our Lady of the Snows, Bikira Maria ya Virika. Away to the
west one could see the lovely Ruwenzori mountains, snow-capped in
spite of the fact that they are on the Equator.
There must be a square mile of buildings, all pulsing with life
at Virika. I started the "working" day by a long walk
with Father Blanc, who is eighty years old. He came out in
1905 and has been back to Europe only once since then. I got the
early history from him and realised a little what an experience
it must be to witness the work of the Church, and to see it transform
a whole people before your eyes from start to finish.
Not far from the church, we found Mother Peter-Michael, a
White Sister, with her twenty-one smiling novices. The African Sisters
always seem to me to be on the point of bursting into laughter.
I often wondered what remarks were passed afterwards about our strange
behaviour as we got them to perform their daily chores, while Leo
climbed up on chairs and tables to get his high-angle shots, or
poked his camera right into their faces. These African Sisters are
called the Daughters of St. Theresa the Banyatereza. I photographed
them with their Mistress of Novices under the little statue of the
Carmelite Patron of the Missions.
At St. Leo's Senior School, run by the Brothers of Christian Instruction,
there were two hundred and fifty Junior and Senior boys; the junior
section was under Brother Edward, an African. Nearby, the
White Sisters had St. Ann's Secondary School for the girls.
In the hospital I found a volunteer German doctor who was very excited
because his father and mother had come to visit him. There were
some two hundred consultations a day here, and I am afraid my mind
went sadly back to Dr. Goarnisson, Upper Volta. He had to
cope with up to one thousand some days without any wards or operating
theatre. How he would envy the set-up of Virika, where Sister
Maurice of the White Sisters, with forty-five years of service
to her name, is still going strong.
Rubaga is the starting point of Catholic mission history in this
land and I went straight on twenty miles to Entebbe, and down to
the shore of Lake Victoria where the inscription on a monument reads:
ON THIS SPOT LANDED THE
CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES OF UGANDA
ON 17TH DAY OF FEBRUARY 1879
FATHER SIMON LOURDEL AND BROTHER AMANS
THE SOCIETY OF THE WHITE FATHERS
Was it a providential omen that one was a priest and
the other a Brother? I closed my eyes and tried to picture the scene:
the exhausted men, the dug-out canoe which had taken a month to
cross the lake from Tanganyika. Away in the distance through the
Bush was Rubaga the court of the King. I opened my eyes: in front
of me was the airfield with a huge plane coming in like a bird;
on the shore were dugout canoes the same as those used by the first
missionaries but many were now fitted with an outboard motor. Up
at Rubaga there is no pagan court but a vast cathedral.
Seven miles from Entebbe at Kisubi the Sisters of Peter Claver have
one of the most modern printing presses in East Africa. They produce
a Catholic paper twice a week. It was a surprise to see a nun sitting
at a complicated looking machine. Her hands passed quickly and expertly
over the keys and the machine set up the corresponding printing
type. The Brothers of Christian Instruction have the large Secondary
School here. I spoke to the older pupils in the afternoon and did
my best to answer an avalanche of questions about life in Europe.
"What did I think of Uganda?" "Truly a jewel of a
country," I could answer, thinking of the deserts and the swamps
I had seen elsewhere.
There is everything in Kisubi from a kindergarten upwards. Trained
craftsmen all over Uganda go out from the technical school and,
most important, there is a teachers' training college with a hundred
and sixty students in residence.
I met the charming and humble Brother Mbaga, Superior General
of the African Brothers of Blessed Charles Lwanga, the Muganda martyr.
He directs one hundred and thirty-six of the Banakaroli Brothers.
There are now 4,500 African Catholic teachers of various grades
in Uganda, but it is not nearly enough, for the largest denomination
of the whole country is Catholic thirty-six per cent, (1,700,000
according to the official figures I saw). The Protestant Missions
follow closely with twenty-seven per cent of the population. I noticed,
however, a surprising lack of Catholics in local Government and
Administration. Is it because we are behind with our schools? Up
to 1924 education was entirely in the hands of the missions, but
since then the Uganda Government has taken a good hand.
A great step forward was the introduction of Attached Staff, whereby
the Missions could get the services of first-class European teachers,
who are paid by the Government as Government servants, and work
in the mission schools. I had not found this Government "generosity"
anywhere else so far, except in the Congo; but perhaps others could
not afford it. I had noticed very generous terms of service for
Doctors in Ghana and no doubt similar schemes to attract teachers
would follow there.
Women are gradually coming into their own, following better education
for girls. But there is still much to be done. One urgent need is
for the Religious teaching Orders to come and take over what is
their special work, leaving the missionaries free to be missionaries,
as they will have to be for many years yet. There are missions here
of sixteen to twenty thousand souls with only three or four priests
to look after them. (Note: Since writing two Teaching Orders, the
Canonesses of St. Augustine and the Ladies of Mary, have gone to
Uganda to release Missionary Sisters.)
Rubaga Cathedral is a monument to faith. It stands
not far from the site of the ancient court of King Mutesa. In the
early days of the mission Brother Cyprian, built it in Roman
style to hold five thousand people! At that time it was an enormous
undertaking. The millions ofbricks had to be made by hand and everything
had to be found on the spot. The result is a splendid achievement.
As I said Mass in it, I had the feeling of the Church being now
established: the pioneer stage being now over; the Church was founded
. . . for the parish priest was an African.
I looked at the large notice board outside the mission of Rubaga
- it was more like a town plan. There were instructions for finding
the Cathedral (hardly necessary for it dominated everything) the
Education Secretary, the Archbishop, the Grail hospital, the White
Sisters' School, the Maternity and Clinic, the school and catechumenate
run by the African Sisters and the Little Sisters of Charles de
Foucauld. The convent of these last named stands on the spot where
the Baganda martyrs came in secret at night to the missionaries
for instruction, and finally for baptism.
We left Rubaga for Villa Maria and Katigondo senior seminary. The
seminary was practically empty: the ninety students were all on
holiday. It is a well-built seminary with a gem of a chapel. Since
its foundation it has turned out two-hundred priests and two bishops.
I wondered if all seminary staffs spend their holidays painting
up their buildings. I remembered it back home and here the same
thing was going on. "Getting the place done up for the students,
Father," said the Superior.
Father Arthur Prentice, the first English White Father, taught
at Katigondo for many years and I continually met African priests
who remembered him and asked after him and Father Howell
who was also here.
Father Victor Wamala, one of the first African priests, was
at Katigondo. He told me that not long ago he went to warn a local
renegade, turned witch-doctor, that he would die shortly. The man
laughed at him, but in fact, he did die a few days later in the
middle of his incantations. Father Victor rushed down to him but
the man was dead among his ju-jus when he arrived.
I went over the road to the Junior Seminary of Bukalasa hoping to
find Father Brankin. I had known him as a student. He was away in
Kenya, broadening his mind by a visit to the Kikuyu, but I met old
Father Buffard. I am sure he will not mind my calling him "old",
for he is ninety years of age, and was one of the first to come
from the coast by rail and boat; his predecessors had walked the
five hundred odd miles. He came with Father Prentice over fifty
years ago and has only been back to Europe once.
We walked a mile down the hill to Villa Maria, one of the first
missions of Uganda. As I stood outside the mission, two venerable
old catechists came over with a few catechumens and knelt down to
ask my blessing. What a treasure these catechists are to the missions.
About the year 1894 bubonic plague broke out in this Buddu district
of Uganda and people died in great numbers. Led by the missionaries,
the Christians had recourse to Our Blessed Lady, and the Superior
of the mission of Villa Maria ordered a great procession to be made
in her honour. It was to be preceded by three days of prayer and
fasting, and in the name of the priests and people, he made a vow
that if no more people died of the epidemic, he would build a Lady
Chapel to which a procession would go each year to commemorate Our
Lady's special protection. The spread of the epidemic stopped at
once and those who were ill recovered. The vow has been kept, and
every year, on the Feast of the Assumption, the great procession
takes place at Villa Maria now in the diocese of Masaka under the
African Bishop, Joseph Kiwanuka.
parish church of the Immaculate Conception was founded in 1892,
six years after the burning of the Martyrs of Uganda. I was there
for the feast of the Assumption and the church was packed to the
doors and to the windows. There were masses of people gathered,
all anxious to honour Our Lady and thank her in accordance with
the vow, for the miraculous cessation of the plague. After Solemn
High Mass, the crowds seemed to burst out of the doors into the
brilliant sunshine. I have rarely seen a more colourful sight: the
women in their coloured robes of every hue, the men, most of them
in long white robes, the African nuns; there were hundreds of them
who had been gathered together for the Annual Retreat together with
the novices and postulants, the White Sisters, African priests in
large numbers, the White Fathers and the boys and young men from
the seminaries not far away.
They fell into an orderly procession and, singing hymns to Our Lady,
made their way through a valley of trees and up the hill to the
little chapel of Our Lady a mile away. It was a stiff climb under
the blazing sun, but never, I am sure, has penance been more gladly
done. An African priest spoke to the crowd of the glories of Mary,
Consoler of the Afflicted and Health of the Sick. Then the colourful
mass of people sang a hymn to their Queen of Africa.
Bwanda nearby is the Mother House of the Bannabikira, the largest
congregation of African nuns in Uganda, and the first to reach the
full independence of Papal Status.
Our visit to Bwanda was a remarkable experience. First we went to
the White Sisters to pick up old Sister Estella, over eighty
years of age. She came out here in 1910 and has been in Bwanda ever
since. She saw the foundation of the Bannabikira, and today she
has the joy of seeing them raised to the status of a Pontifical
Congregation with their own Mother General. Somebody took Sister
Estella recently for her first sight of a lake boat! She was much
more thrilled to be taken back to spend a few hours with her beloved
Bannabikira. It was lovely to see them swarming round her, kneeling
to kiss her hands, chatting excitedly. The convent was alive with
two hundred and twenty nuns; for the annual Retreat was about to
begin and they had come in from all over Uganda.
I was introduced to Mother General Antonetta and the members
of her Council. She told me that their Congregation now had 438
members who work in some fifty mission stations. Over one hundred
of them are qualified teachers. I took a photograph of one Sister
at her blackboard. I liked her name: Sister Maria Mugagga
Sister Mary the Rich. Rich indeed, but not with the riches
of the world.
There were eighty novices and postulants, so one can imagine how
spick and span everything was. They all beamed with happiness! I
shall never forget the lovely smiles on the faces of African nuns,
wherever I met them.
I took a photograph of the former Mother General, Mother Ursula,
together with Sister Estella and Mother Antonetta, the present General,
all linking arms. It was a touching picture of the old White Sister
who could now rejoice to see the completion of this great work,
started fifty years ago under Bishop Streicher, who always lavished
a special love on this growing congregation of African nuns.
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