I HAVE SEEN THE HUMILIATION OF MY PEOPLE AND HEARD THEIR CRY
Dear Children of God in Northern Uganda and all people of good will,
Peace and Love!
After so many years of continuous warfare, disorders and untold sufferings in our sub-region, I feel the duty to send you a message of consolation well aware I am part of you all.
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel, the words of Salvation” (1Cor. 9:16), says the great apostle of the gentiles, Paul of Tarsus who, from a persecutor of the Church, had become zealous follower of Christ’s teaching so that he could say, “I made myself all things to all people” (ibid. v. 23) in order to bring them to salvation.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is uniquely for this same love of all of you that I, Shepherd of Christ’s flock, cannot keep quiet when I see the daily humiliation and misery and hear the cry of my people. Every Christian faithful and every God- fearing person knows that our faith is a mission we are bound to accomplish. This mission for us is strictly peaceful, loving and respectful of the dignity in human persons of all walks and stages of life.
It is more than evident that we, the faithful of the Catholic and Universal Church, are overtly and covertly attacked in our properties and lives while we try to identify with and opt for the teaching and discipleship of Our Lord Jesus Christ who never refused to welcome any human person: child; (“let children come to me for to such as these belongs the kingdom of God”) and adult, young and aged, healthy as well as sick, good as well as sinners, and in particular Christ welcomed his very own killers and prayed for them to his Father. “Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing” (Lk23:34) and went still farther to promise salvation to the repentant robber. “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). These attacks serve nothing but are a ploy to divide my people, one against another at this hour of great need of unity. I will not accept it. It is humanity suffering here and we the suffering people must remain united.
Dear brothers and sisters, the cross of Christ which is present all over our places of worship and which we always keep with us wherever we are reminds us all of our true mission. This was evident in the experience of our beloved catechists blessed martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa and of many other catechists men and women slaughtered regardless of their innocence and dignity. Consequently, all those who continue to attack us, our Churches, schools and families are in deed daring to attack the Almighty God and the Saviour he sent to redeem us. They are attacking innocent, simple and defenceless citizens who have done nothing politically wrong. I therefore denounce the inhuman manner of treating my people in northern Uganda. In the name of the Almighty God to whom nothing can remain concealed STOP harassing innocent people and come to your senses listening to the Lord’s exhortation “Do to no one what you would not wish done to you” (Mt. 7:12) because such behaviour is rebellious to God, it is wicked and leads to perdition.
I want to remind the indifferent world that the people of the Northern and North-eastern districts of Uganda, Acholi, Langi, Teso, Karimojong, Lugbara, Madi, Alur, and many others subjected to such atrocities are part of Uganda and the whole humanity who should enjoy equal rights, responsibility and dignity. I also want to remind that Uganda has a constitutional duty and mandate to protect the lives of all its citizens, without exception, their properties, as well as its territorial borders. The constitutional right and duty to protect derives from the universal right to life, common good, equal opportunity to work and earn a living and develop it perfected by the magnanimity of our common Father God “who makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust” (Mt. 5:45).
As honest people, we cannot accept that a political war about forms of government and administration of the common good becomes religious. When Uganda became an independent nation we accepted the motto “For God and my Country”. It is therefore unfair that we are continuously provoked as if we were belligerent people to be dealt with as enemies or compelled to fight or be sold out as slaves or goods.
The civil war especially in Northern Uganda has continued unabated for 17 years and we witness the worsening catastrophe without the slightest sign of comfort of the so much desired peace. Surely we are at the point when the civil war should be addressed and solved by national and international communities because these evil effects are rooted, as we see both inside and outside Uganda.
We cannot ignore or close our eyes to the cruel conduct of warring parties and their daily heavy consequences on the children. Children suffer most because they are minors and as such are always vulnerable to unscrupulous adults who conscript them into their ranks, physically and morally impairing their fundamental human freedom. The horrendous and traumatising punitive measures to torture victims of abductions which children are compelled to carry out is an execrable criminal act.
How can we ignore the suffering of mothers in this endless northern Uganda war? How seriously do we sound the slogan “When you teach a mother you teach a nation”? Do we realise that when you torture a mother you torture a nation? In the 17 year long war in northern Uganda mothers have been abused, beaten, gang raped in front of their children and husbands and of recent forced out of their homesteads by the war to live in camps. In the camp the litany of their sufferings is endless, no shelter, sleepless nights, fatiguing search for food and medications, dress and toilet soaps etc. to make out of an inhuman condition a bare minimum of living. Is the mother in northern Uganda a nation, a Uganda? And so how do we afford to ignore her sufferings? Are seventeen years not enough?
My dear elder brothers and sisters, you are our senior citizens, a library, indeed, of human experiences, your bishop has shared with you and your children the daily dark, cold, long and indeed painful nights outside your proper houses. I am sure I witnessed just a bit of the tribulations and the nightmare, the individual, social, physical and moral depth of which only you can fathom. I cannot afford to ignore you now when you suffer.
My immediate collaborators, Rev. Fathers, Sisters, Brothers and Catechists, I am with you. I do not like to count the cost. Many of us have been forced to abandon their flock and have suffered even death in this conflict. This is devastating. I cannot ignore your sufferings but please, Blessed Martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa, Monsignor Antonio Vignato, Bishop Angelo Negri, Bishop John Baptist Cesana, Servant of God Brother Norbert McAuliffe (Dano ma lego) , Bishop Cypriano Kihangire, Bishop Cesare Asili, Frs. John Baptist Ongom, Cesario Odida, Antonio Oyik, Opwonya, Oryang Anania, Egidio Biscaro, Raffaele Di Bari, Declan O’toole, and others, Mother Angioletta Dognini, Mother Lidia Ato and others are all with us and praying for us. Aren’t they? “We are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted , but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed, always wherever we may be we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too may always be seen in our body” (2Cor. 4:7-13).
The population as a whole has suffered and is still suffering as we know. People are compelled to abandon their homes and fields and remain for such a long period in camps far from being protected and without a decent living. This is unacceptable to any one with the minimum of respect for human dignity. There is a way out of this long suffering, a way to save people in northern Uganda. It is forgiveness, reconciliation and above all love.
“From now onwards therefore, we do not judge anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God” (2Cor. 5:15-21).
In conclusion: From where will salvation come? From the Lord. “ ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. …”. God alone is good. We are not. And so we must repent of our sins and go back to God who truly loves us and go back to our human kind, brothers and sisters in the same Loving Father.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother help us through our prayers to return to the One alone who is good.
May the Blessed young and generous catechists Daudi and Jildo Irwa help us to be steady in our faith, hope and love as they had been by their martyrdom.
With my Pastoral Blessing to you and your dear ones.
+John Baptist Odama
Archbishop of Gulu.
From my residence, Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul,
29th June, 2003.
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