Chapter 24


SIX White Fathers came to see me off to Uganda. The plane landed for a short time at Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria; it was cooler, the altitude was marked as 3,700 feet. It was one of the flourishing mission areas of Tanganyika I wish I had been able to visit.

We took off to cross the Lake which was like a sea; at times I could not see land on either side. Father Beckwith, the Catholic Missions' Secretary of Education for Uganda, met me at Entebbe and off we went to Rubaga. On the way we called at the splendid school for girls at Nabbingo where there are 200 boarders from all over Uganda.

"You'll find ten tribes in one class, Father," said the Headmistress.

Father Beckwith took me to the great Mission of Mubende next morning. It had a lovely old church and the whole mission was surrounded by trees. There were 15,000 Christians in this mission and over a thousand children in the schools. I went up the mountain behind the mission to see the famous witch-tree of Mubende. It is a giant cotton tree and was once a great centre of witchcraft. From the hill I got a magnificent view of the lovely green hills of Uganda rolling away into the distance, with the mission below, almost hidden among the trees.

We drove on another twenty-five miles to Bukumi, a typical early mission of Uganda. It was founded in 1898 and was the fourth or fifth to be opened in the country. The original building of baked bricks was still in service. It was once surrounded by a wall, and for two weeks was besieged by rebel Nubian troops.

I read in the Mission Diary:

August 1st, 1898 — Mwanga (the king) has crossed the Nile and fled . . . The Moslems have burnt down another mission.
August 2nd, 1898 — A Father's burnous (mantle) has been stolen.
August 6th, 1898 — Confessions from nine this morning till four this afternoon. The persecutions by Mwanga have resulted in a renewal of fervour among the local Christians.
November 4th, 1898 — Rebel Nubians (note below) are approaching, burning all in their path . . . A second message arrived at 9.45 this morning warning us to get into the mission enclosure quickly. We are a thousand in all in the compound. The rebels arrived, they have burned down everything outside the wall. We shall have to make sorties at night for food and water . . .
November 10th, 1898 — A note from the rebel chief: "I have withdrawn, but if you do not go we shall attack again". . . . We wrote back: "Come on, we are not afraid" . . .
November 12th, 1898 — . . . Rain, cold and hunger are going to beat us.
November 13th, 1898 — Captain Meldon with a British force has arrived and the siege is raised . . . Deo Gratias.

(note: King Mwanga resisted the British who, in pacifying the country, used Nubian troops who were mostly Moslems. Some of these backed Mwanga and rebelled against the British.)

At Bukumi was the biggest drum I have ever seen. When they beat out the Angelus my stomach vibrated with each thud. The drum stood higher than the children around it and measured quite four feet across.

Bikumi was a parish of ten thousand but it had few catechumens. Customs were changing and the adults would no longer leave their plantations and come to the mission for continuous instruction, as they did formerly. However, twenty-five catechists were doing the job on the spot in the village out-stations. There were nearly two thousand children in the schools of the mission, and the Brothers of Christian Instruction have a fine boarding school for the boys.

Father Gerard, the Superior, had started large fish ponds to give the people a better supply of proteins. They were a great success. While we talked a Father came in, tired and soaked to the skin. He had said Mass earlier in an out-station and was just leaving for home when a sick call came; it took him sixteen miles in the opposite direction and he was caught in heavy rain into the bargain.

I had noticed in these missions a little ladder leading up into the roof in the churches and mission stations.

"What's that for?" I asked. "That's for the cats to get up into the roof and destroy the bats!" I was told.

In fact, where cats had been trained to this (if they need any training) I did notice an absence of the horrible smell of bats, though the noisy squeaking from the roof often proved the cats still had plenty to do.

The kind Fathers gave me chicken as a treat for supper. I battled with it on a plate, and then battled with it for hours afterwards! Rarely had I encountered such a tough proposition !

Next morning we went to the central Bush station of Muinana, about thirty miles away. We baptised a little girl, Pulcheria. She had arrived since Father's last visit. I met Paulo, the catechist. He had seven hundred Christians to look after.

There were two schools: "They get no grants because we have not yet got an officially qualified teacher," said Father Beckwith. "If we had the money and a priest to make this a mission station, it would have six thousand Catholics to be cared for and eight thousand pagans to be converted. It already has twelve sub-stations dependent on it . . .”

Paulo and his Christians gave us two live chickens as a present. Each was neatly trussed up in a banana leaf. They occasionally squawked their protestations if the car bumped badly.
We were still in the territory of Mubende Mission, but we drove another twenty miles to the biggest outpost of the mission; Madudu. There were 1,300 Christians on the spot, with only a catechist to take care of them. The church, which the people built themselves, was large, simple and clean. The walls were made by covering a lattice of wood and reeds with clay, which hardens in the sun; the roof was thatched, the floor covered with clean dry grass. There was nothing inside save the mud altar. It was dark and cool. The pupils of the mission technical school built the school with ten classrooms for the two hundred and fifty children, all eager to learn. They had no Government grants.

We baptised a baby named George, and my companion heard confessions.

Before leaving, I had a look round the little house made for the visiting priest. St. Francis of Assisi would have loved it. Walls, a roof, a door, a reed bed, and a mud partition to separate the "bedroom" from the "dining-room". What more could you want?

Back at Entebbe I talked long into the night with old Brother Herman. He built Entebbe Mission nearly sixty years ago.

"I came out in 1897 via Bagamoyo," he said, "we walked eight hours a day for four months, 1,100 miles in all. We had 1,500 porters for our caravan of sixteen missionaries.

(note: Besides provisions to last two years, the caravan had to transport cloth and other articles to pay chiefs for permission to pass through their territories.)

Our greatest trial was lack of water. We drank any water we could find — and lived. There must have been a special Providence for us. We all arrived safely, perhaps because we had with us the first statue of Our Lady of Lourdes to reach the country. One night a lion carried off one of our donkeys before our eyes."

Brother Herman continued: "In 1900 Father Lesbos and I were sent to explore Ankole and Kigezi to choose a spot for five future mission stations. We left Koki on September 8th, Our Lady's Birthday, and we trekked for three months through mountains, marshes, and plains in an unknown land. We carried with us plenty of gifts for the local chiefs. On the first day out, we killed a huge cobra in the camp; then we ran into buffaloes and had to make a wide detour. On September 12th we arrived at the British Fort of Mbarara, fifty-two miles away. We sent messages and gifts ahead to the King of Kahaya and he gave us permission to pass through his country. We went on to Ibanda. The chief there was a huge woman, so fat and weighed down with ornaments that she had to be carried about by her subjects. She was called Nyamunswa: the queen ant! We got some land from her for the future Mission of Ibanda which was founded twelve years later."

Old Brother Herman paused. I waited, then he went on:
"We were often up to our knees in the marshes, covered with leeches and bitten by clouds of mosquitoes. We were driven away by the Baheju people and we turned south. The Chief of Shema, called Nduru, gave us a great welcome, but I shall never forget the next night. We were invited by the Chief to a celebration, and at about eight in the evening we went into a natural amphitheatre filled with two thousand spectators. We sat beside the Chief near one of the several huge log fires. Then we saw in pageant form the whole history of the tribe, while the crowd got more and more excited. There was growing tension. We did not know what was going to happen till suddenly the witch-doctors came in to impress us with their powers. A great fire was spread just in front of us. The Chief witch-doctor stripped naked lay in the flames, the crowd yelled to him to become a bull, an antelope, a lion, and he did, or at least seemed to. We were scared stiff I have never felt the devil so close.

As he talked his eyes half closed as if he saw it all again. A large plane thundered overhead to the nearby airfield and I thought of my recent visit to Mbarara with its new Bishop and its thousands of Catholics . . . and only sixty years ago Brother Herman, at my side, was exploring that wild pagan country!

A Mill Hill Father kindly drove me through the modern town of Kampala with its fine roads, shops, and buses out into the country, to Namugongo, scene of the death of the Blessed Martyrs of Uganda. I tried to imagine the journey of the young Christian martyrs here in 1886. They walked as prisoners along the way we had just driven. Some Christian lads had already been killed. Namugongo was a site for the execution of nobles and many of these boys, about to die for their Christian Faith, were sons of princes and chiefs.

It was very quiet on the little hill when I got there. My companion left me alone. I looked up at the small plain chapel, built on the spot where Blessed Charles Lwanga had his special martyrdom. The others died together about a mile down the road.

There was nobody in sight, and I knelt down and prayed for Africa; for all the people I had seen. My mind went back to the west, to Wagadugu, the Sudan, to the Northern Regions of Ghana. I was back in a parched land, half desert, where the full symbolism of water came home so forcibly: I saw again the African people moving as a mass into the Church in these Central African Missions, hundreds waiting patiently for the Sacraments: the tired and worn but happy priests. I thought of what I had seen in Tanganyika, around Tabora, the Church growing but Islam again, the drab Swahili women, the cold distant look of the Mohammedan, and still the Church taking root firmly in a stony soil . . . I must have been dreaming, for I did not notice Father Chrysostom Kamya approach. He stood by my side as I looked up to answer his smile — an African priest on the hill of Namugongo, where the Blessed Martyrs of Uganda made their great sacrifice.

I left Africa for the second time in my life. It was leaving home, for I am a White Father.

" I love all there is in Africa; its past, its future, its mighty mountains, its clear blue skies, the great sweep of its deserts and the blue seas that bathe its shores." CARDINAL LAVIGERIE


With grateful thanks to Robbie Dempsey for transcribing this book for us

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