It was on the 9th March, 2017 that a multitude of the PCJ – Philosophy Centre Jinja family congregated to reflect and meditate on the theme; “In the footsteps of the pioneer missionaries in Uganda.” The day was graced by the presence of the guest speaker, Fr. Richard Nyombi M.Afr. He was particularly introduced to commence the seminar by the rector of Lavigerie formation house-Jinja in the following manner: “I invite Fr. Richard Nyombi to take us into the beautiful reminiscence of our pioneer missionaries; Fr. Lourdel, Br. Amans and Mother Kevin, as we eventually project ourselves into the future which we hope will culminate in the beatification of those who have made the pearl of Africa to be known as the land of the martyrs” (Cekoroba, 2017).
This opening statement was so rich and informed of the seminar’s theme. The mention of the Platonic literary genre takes us not only to history but historicity which is paramount in any discipline; he also highlighted the on-going process of investigation on the worth of these three for beatification and finally echoed what Uganda is paired with – land of the martyrs. All these aspects are part and parcel of what constituted the theme in congruence to the guest speaker’s key agenda.
He began by reminding the assembly of the history of evangelization in Uganda, with the White Fathers establishing their presence in Central and Western part early in 1879, Mill Hill Missionaries in the East in 1895 and the Comboni Missionaries in the North much later in 1910. This informs us that the White Fathers are the architect of Catholic Christianity in Uganda. This does not discount the vigorous role of the other religious congregations not mentioned herein.
Extensive as it was, the theme was condensed into six significant points. History has it that “Uganda is the pearl of Africa” (W. Churchill). This has remained enshrined hitherto. What is new is that the missionary work of these pioneer missionaries has yielded fruits for the universal church – the martyrs, giving Uganda a new name as the “Pearl of Africa and Land of the martyrs.” With martyrdom as the cream of witness, Mapeera is reported to have exclaimed: “We no longer need to envy any other mission, Uganda has her own martyrs!”
Fr. Richard, too, articulated on whether or not we need Saints in our milieu. With reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 828, we realize that saints play a pivotal role in our lives as intercessors and companions, examples and models of holiness and are the source and origin of renewal. What ensued was the life and works of Mapeera, Amans and Mother Kevin. Mother Kevin, who was invited to Uganda by a Mill Hill Prelate (based in Uganda) in 1903, has had a visible contribution. To mention but a few, she established a number of health units including Nzambia hospital and several schools to address health and literary needs of the natives. Above all, Mother Kevin founded the congregation of the Little Sisters of St. Francis traditionally known as Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa. Mapeera was gifted: he was a diplomat, linguistic and a doctor. He enjoyed good acquaintance with the Kabaka of Buganda and was his personal doctor and friend. In a way, he represented the Catholic missionaries to Uganda. Amans and Mapeera are inseparable. The name Mapeera is a Baganda twist from ‘mon pere’ as Amans used to call Lourdel, ‘my father’. Though he seemed to be in the background, his hands and feet were soiled in tending to the different demands of the people in the apostolate. Amans is reported to have been a missionary of good character that one of the Uganda martyrs, John Mary before his death spoke of him as follows: “I want to be like Brother Amans.” Historically, Br. Amans was the first religious in Uganda, and the first to take his missionary oath in Uganda.
The cause for the Beatification of Mapeera, Amans and Mother Kevin was part of the day’s package. The audience was invited to be involved in this fundamental process with the hope that by reflecting on the outcome of the lives of the pioneer missionaries in Uganda, we may take their faith as our model. The guest speaker concluded by inviting the assembly to be part in the pilgrimage, which he compared with the encounter between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist. In response to their demand of where he lives, Jesus told them to ‘Come and See.’ They went, saw and returned to give witness to others. This must be the same for our pioneer missionaries in Uganda; we should be in touch with their history, emulate their example and faith, and give witness through their intercession.
(Student of the Missionaries of Africa)