MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 19

LAND OF MILK AND HONEY

MBARARA lies to the south and west of Katigondo, less than a hundred miles away. On the way there we called in at Nkomi Mission, where I found a thousand children in the school. The local Christians built the mission and church under the direction of Brother Kizito, of the African Banakaroli Brothers. Father Mayombwe was in charge with two African curates.

Nine miles on we came to Kyamaganda with ten thousand Christians and twenty-five out-stations to look after. The five priests were all Africans. We made a short stop at Kijjukizo Mission dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. It was just starting and the church was tiny, but Father Mazinga, the parish priest, had great plans and high hopes for he already had two thousand Christians in his parish and one hundred and fifty children in his school. I was impressed by this missionary spirit of the African clergy.

We arrived at Mbarara and I thought word must have gone before us, for the whole place was decorated with flags and bunting. I felt very flattered, but it was not for us, as Father Miller, the Superior, soon told me in no uncertain terms. As he spoke, yet another lorry-load of would-be visitors arrived for the enthronement of the new Bishop next day. However, we were fitted in somewhere. Bishop Ogez, the new Bishop, is a French White Father from Northern Rhodesia. Father Andrew Murphy came in later in the evening then Father Lea and Father Fitzpatrick, all old friends. We talked until late into the night.

There was a very homely atmosphere at Mbarara. I heard the sound of a lawn mower for the first time since I came to Africa. Father Miller, Superior of this huge mission was busy preparing the reception of the new Bishop, yet somehow he found the time to take me to visit a local African judge. It was a lovely home and the judge spoke perfect English. We went to another family and found them all round the table at supper: we shared their fish and unsweetened banana mash.

I met a catechist, the local drum-maker, who made a presentation drum for Queen Elizabeth. I was sorry we had no room to take away a large specimen of his craft.

All the missions in this district are built of bricks and tiles made at Mbarara in Brother Rosario's brick-works. The works turn out one and a half million bricks a year, using twenty-four lorry loads of clay a day. At one time, fifty lorry loads of wood a month were used to heat the furnaces, but Brother Rosario has now installed oil burners' which are much more economical and efficient. The clay is fine enough for tiles. While making a photographic record of the work, Leo almost fell into one of the clay pits! In another part of the mission Brother Bernard was at work in his printing press, a modern off-set press doing work not only for the mission but also for business and Government offices.

His Lordship, the Bishop, arrived at the end of a procession, preceded by a band. The local chiefs had given him a car as a gift of welcome. I had last met him as Father Ogez on supply in Liverpool during a leave of absence from Africa, and St. Monica's parish of Liverpool presented the mitre he wore for his enthronement. We talked late into the night. He did not take long to tell me what he wanted from me as soon as I got back to Europe:

"Some nuns, Father, for teaching. I must have more schools, especially for girls; I want specialists in Sociology and somebody to organise the press . . ." And so it went on like a shopping list.

The Pontifical High Mass was in the open air, for the thousands of assistants would never have fitted into the church. The drums had been beating since early morning and then somebody coupled up loud speakers and a gramophone. I much preferred the drums. Two Papal Knights arrived, one European, the other African. Bishop Ogez, who is new to the district made a great impression by opening his sermon in Runyankole. A long drawn "aah" of appreciation ran through the congregation. After a few sentences His Lordship went on in English.

After the Mass there came the presentations and speeches by the regional delegates. Each rose in turn to welcome His Lordship and tell him that his region was the most important, and must be visited first. (Loud cheers from supporters, jeers from the others!) Then came the reading of a list of the schools they simply must have, the hospital which was essential, and so on. The "shopping list" the Bishop had given me the night before was nothing to the one he got that morning!

In a quiet corner, I had a chat with Bishop Billington, the Mill Hill Bishop of Kampala, who had come for the ceremonies. He paid a warm compliment to Government:

"I've worked out here since I came as a newly ordained priest, and only very rarely have I ever had any difficulty with the Uganda Government."

He was echoing what I had heard from our own Bishops in Rhodesia and from those of Tanganyika I had met at Bukavu. The Belgians could say the same, except for recent difficulties, but, alas, not my French brethren.

After lunch we left Mbarara and that same evening we arrived at the great Mission of Kabale.

The new church was finished in 1956. It is a magnificent building overlooking the whole countryside. The first church built in 1926, and of no mean proportions, is still there, and the mission buildings are still those of the foundation. There are now thirty thousand Christians and catechumens in Kabale mission. I wandered down the garden as evening fell, and heard the distant sound of the rosary being recited, I tracked it down to what looked like an orderly little village. It was the “catechumens' camp”, a real village but part of the mission. There are always some two hundred adult catechumens here in residence for the last few weeks preceding their baptism. A catechist was leading the rosary and evening prayers. This mission has nearly one hundred out-stations, each one with a school: nine thousand children are educated here. If the schools are good, Government recognises them and gives grants, a powerful way of making them good!

Only four Fathers were available for this vast mission. What a job they have! Yet they seem so calm and peaceful in the midst of it all. One of them said to me:

"Father, if we can get the Sacraments to all our people once a year we are doing well."

You will note that he did not say: "If we can get our people to the Sacraments . . ."

"Last week, on the feast of the Assumption, there were ten thousand here at Mass. It was useless trying to get them into the church; those who could not get near various Communion rails waited until after Mass for Communion."

Father Torelli, who, being Swiss, must feel at home up here in the mountains, said: "When I go to an out-station, I spend three full days in the confessional up till eight o'clock each evening."

He had been here fifty years. Since 1950 he had seen a great change. Ten years ago these people dressed in animal skins, now they were well turned-out, and were starting to give support to the mission each one according to his means. It may be very little, in fact, but it is a generous portion of what they have. The people are cultivating more and more land and learning to use the soil to better advantage.

Our Lady of the Good Shepherd is the appropriate title of Kabale church, up here in the hills.

It was cold enough to need a blanket at night and I went off to bed having heard from Father Torelli another specimen of the changing face of Africa. A man had called asking for spiritual advice:

"Shall I pay four hundred shillings, Father, or would it be better to go to prison for four months?"

I woke up at Kabale mission to the sound of drums: a lovely sound even at that unearthly hour. It was still dark. I took my hurricane lamp and made my way down to the church for meditation. I could not resist coming out of the church about half an hour later to see the sun rise over Kabale. There was a wonderful peace and quiet over everything. The sun rose quickly behind the rounded hills; the valleys were filled with a milky white mist, and, deep in the thick banana groves, dogs barked and hens cackled, then the tiny bell of the Sister's convent rang the Angelus, and I went back to join my brethren in commemorating the wonder of God's stooping down to lift up mankind in the Incarnation.

It was sad to have to leave, but what a memory to treasure! As we drove away down the hill, I turned for a last look at Our Lady of the Good Shepherd. The sight of that great church which can hold four thousand people and the humble mission house dwarfed beside it was full of significance.

This is a land of "milk and honey": there are lovely herds of cows and dozens of beehives. The hives are hung up in trees all along the road. Each hive is a long wooden tube about eighteen inches in diameter and three feet long. I was told that many bees have been poisoned by nicotine since the local cultivation of tobacco started.

We gave a lift to a senior seminarist who wanted to visit Ruanda. The students from Uganda like to visit their opposite numbers in the Congo and vice versa, but our young man sadly commented:

"The others speak French much better than we from Uganda speak English; we don't like that."

It was a significant remark and only too true. I suppose it is one fruit, quite unforeseen, of the policy which in Belgian missions puts French as the primary teaching medium, whereas we put the vernacular as the primary teaching medium leaving English as a secondary medium. The consequences are a certain feeling of inferiority among the Baganda clergy and laymen trained in our school. This young man had taught  himself quite passable French, and later I found students in the Congo and Ruanda teaching themselves English to be able to visit Uganda.

We drove through more mountains around more dizzy turns with more possibly fatal drops if . . . Then in the distance, set in a vast arena of mountains we saw Rubanda which was established as an autonomous mission in 1950 when it had three thousand Christians. By 1957 there were nearly twelve thousand Christians and catechumens and it had forty- seven out-stations dependent on it. The mission centre stretches twenty miles in any direction from the centre. One thousand six hundred children were at the school. It is so easy to write this but what an apostolic burden lies hidden in these few facts !

I looked around: five volcanoes stood sentinel-like to the south, not far away Mount Kashuli, the highest mount of Kigezi, rose 11,000 feet. The three priests of Rubanda looked ill. It is small wonder with the work they have to cope with.

"The sick calls nearly kill us - three hours on a donkey is nothing. Sometimes even the donkey jibs, and then you must scramble on up those hills on foot," said the Superior.

This is no place for weak hearts, nor for faint ones!

The poor Father who welcomed us could not understand our hurry, but we had to return our car by a fixed date, and we hoped to be at Mutolere, miles away, for lunch.

Back on our mountain road we drove through a forest of giant bamboo. It looked impenetrable and sounded full of monkeys. We arrived at Mutolere five minutes before the lunch-time Angelus was beaten out. The Fathers were in the church, but they soon joined us. We received the usual warm welcome and were given water to wash. I thought of what an unthinkable luxury this would have been in some of the missions of the Sudan.

Brother Kevin was building a hospital here. He looked brown, well and happy. Last time I saw him was at his home in Preston: now he was an experienced missionary Brother, with several buildings to his credit. We went down to his work site after lunch. Part of the building was finished, and already being used by some Franciscan Nursing Sisters from Holland. This is another immense mission of twenty-one thousand Christians and with thousands of children in its schools.

We wanted to get to Kabgayi in Ruanda before nightfall, so soon we said goodbye to Mutolere. My last sight was of Brother Kevin Corbishley waving from the scaffolding of his half-finished convent.

Mutolere is 6,500 feet up. We climbed to 8,I67 feet before the road started to go down, snaking round the mountain side.

We crossed the border at 4.00 p.m., and passed over to the right side of the road. I noticed volcanoes to the right and to the left. Thank goodness they were not active. Much of the road was lava. There was a bump, a bang and then a screech of tortured metal and crash; we stopped quickly! Now what? We started the engine: all seemed well. We moved into gear and got a terrible screech and stopped again, at once! We were alone on the road miles from anywhere it seemed. Evening was coming and the car not going; but Providence is always good: we had stopped by a little side road and down that road, a couple of miles away, was a mission.

We pushed the car and all jumped in and set off down the road with the engine off, tooting hard, hoping that nothing; and nobody would be round the comer and oblige us to brake and lose the speed which would take us up the little hills. We finally stopped two hundred yards short of the mission. Full of hope we walked up. At least we had a roof for the night, but we hoped, too, for tools and perhaps that gift from heaven: a Brother! Alas! Nobody was at home, all the Fathers were out visiting.

A seminarist on holiday consoled us: "Father, a lorry passes here every day or so, the driver is sure to have tools! "

We poked around and managed to find a small screwdriver, a pair of pincers and a hammer. Armed with these we crawled under the car to investigate. After heart-breaking efforts and finger tearing, we got the fly-wheel cover off. A piece of lava had knocked a dent into it, pushing the metal back onto the teeth of the flywheel; hence the horrible screech of metal which had frightened us to an immediate halt. We hammered out the dent, replaced the cover and started up: all was well and great was our relief. We were dusty and thirsty, and so, in spite of the rapidly approaching night and many miles to go to Kabgayi, we stayed for a wash and some tea with nice big bananas and drove on.

Perhaps it was just as well for our nerves that it was soon dark. We drove along a narrow mountain road on which the traffic was only allowed in one direction at certain hours, and sometimes it seemed to me we were driving along the ridge of a roof, with black chasms on either side! Precipices of hundreds of feet disappeared into the darkness where, far, far below, I could hear water running.

Late that night we arrived safely at Kabgayi and I found myself in one of the biggest mission stations in Africa.

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