In the footsteps of Fr. Mapeera Lourdel and Brother Amans
The outing of the confrères of the Uganda Province to Kigungu landing site where
Fr. Lourdel and Br. Amans arrived on 17th February 1879
GOING BACK TO OUR BEGINNINGS TO FLAME INTO FLAME THE FIRE OF OUR PIONEER
CONFRERES HERE IN UGANDA.
The beginning of May was packed with activities for us M.Afr as we entered
in earnest the celebrations of the 130th anniversary of the arrival of our
first confreres here in Uganda. Re-membering some of the key moments of
what they underwent to share their faith in Christ Jesus, Son of God made
man for ALL human beings, proved to be a great spiritual uplift for all of
us and the people in our care.
The confreres of today whose inspiration it was to initiate and plan these
celebrations chose a challenging title: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FR MAPEERA
LOURDEL AND Bro Amans Delmas. These two young men are indeed, along with
those who followed soon afterwards as members of the same caravan: Fr Leon
Livinhac. (who became the first bishop of Uganda and our first superior
general), Fr Louis Barbot, and Fr Ludovic Girault are truly the ancestors of
the faith of the people of Uganda. It is a sobering thought to know that
worldwide, from 1876 to 1899, 146 of our men died and their average age at
the beginnings was 30 years and three months. When one of them was killed
or fell victims to malaria and other diseases, immediately there were
others ready to replace them. Lavigerie had said, "Give me some saints,
and I will give you martyrs."
On the first day of our Provincial Assembly, we took a bus to make a
pilgrimage to the key spots that Mapeera Lourdel and Brother Amans have made
unforgettable and of course, those that marked the beginnings of the early
Church when the whole caravan arrived. Our confrere Jo Van de Ven who has
been a missionary in Buganda, then in the East and later among the
Karimojong warriors, had carefully researched what these confreres had
experienced and shared that with us at each "station" so that we could get a
feel for what it cost them. Imagine for instance walking all the way from
the coast meeting small chiefs along the way who threatened them armed to
the teeth, their porters abandoning them and running off with the goods
they so desperately needed to survive, the exhaustion caused by diseases
and the trudging through rough terrains, and the ongoing tension of
wondering, "What next?" I can still remember my own father telling me
after having read the first American book about us, THE WHITE FATHERS OF
AFRICA, "What a hard time they had!" And all that because Jesus was truly
alive for them and they had the deep conviction that He had a very personal
love and plan for each one of them. They would have to be fools to lose so
much if it were for only a purely earthly reward!
After our arrival at the Lake, we soaked in something of the atmosphere of
the now growing fishing village of Kigungu, part of the peninsula on which
Entebbe airport is built. Specially striking is the commemorative plaque
with statues of both Lourdel and Amans seen kneeling as they reached the
mainland of Uganda on their way to meet the Kabaka (King) and wondering what
that would mean for them and the mission. At this our first "station", we
entered the beautiful church that our confrere, Kiki Gillain, had built with
large windows allowing us to behold Lake Victoria in all its splendour. Jo
had chosen for us the text of II Cor 11:21-29 depicting the many trials of
that great missionary St Paul. He then proceeded to evoke something of the
trials and tribulations of Mapeera and Br Amans both whose cause for
beatification we are now seriously promoting. After a spontaneous prayer,
we sang the Sancta Maria and moved on.
As their boat fell into pieces, "good only for firewood", on their way to
the next "port", they went on foot. That gave us the opportunity to stop at
Entebbe parish church and priests' house where many of us old timers had
spent our first night in Uganda. I can still recall the sweet chirping of
the birds when I woke up that first morning in Uganda, my land of adoption.
Getting back to our confreres: they spent the next night at Kisubi where
Paul Muyard and company started our pioneer first cycle in Uganda and which
had been the provincial house before Bob Gay moved it to Lourdel House in
Kampala. There is a famous "foreign to Uganda" tree there which according to
tradition was a tent peg left behind by the missionaries which took root and
grew! Now, the beautiful, Mapeera Senior Secondary School, with over a 1000
students, has been built around that Mapeera Tree, a constant reminder of
how their precious faith reached them. A short time before, many of us had
attended a special celebration with Bishop Gay as main celebrant where our
vocation team had awakened the hearts of the students to the possibility of
following in the footsteps of these great men. Some of our stagiaires made
their declaration of intent in the shade of the famous tree, planning at its
foot a simple cross.
From there, we went to Kitebi where they were arrested by a Muslim who had
been told to stop any strangers and he kept them prisoners in a hut. We can
imagine what they felt pent up there for about 10 days suffering from
malaria with little food and lots of apprehension about what awaited them.
Finally, the Kabaka called for them and the doors were opened for them to
begin sharing their faith. This place has now become a mini center for
interfaith dialogue with Muslims. We were actually shown a chair where
Mapeera had sat and folks can sit on it for a small fee: 1,000 shillings.
Fr Valette, a Frenchman, honored it, sitting on it in memory of his
country-mate! A few days earlier, there had been an interfaith program
held there as part of the celebrations which proved to be very much
appreciated by the Muslim community.
Our next "station" was Nalukolongo. It is now an old people's home which is
run by the Good Samaritan Sisters, founded by the last Cardinal Nsubuga. We
M.Afr. have built a humble block for our M.Afr. retired Ugandan confreres.
Joe Kamnya is now there and it was with tears in his eyes that he welcomed
us. This place is very important because it was there that several of the
Martyrs were baptized. Once again, Jo made us aware of the link between our
baptism and our readiness to lay our lives for Christ. He pointed out how
Cardinal Nsubuga, so simple, had asked that he be given a simple grave in
the midst of his spiritual daughters, but was given a splendid mausoleum
just behind the chapel which we then visited.
After a buffet lunch at Pope Paul Centre, we proceeded to the place where
Mapeera died at the age of 36 after having been the "chaplain" of the Uganda
Martyrs. There is still a one room brick chapel there with his image and a
prayer in French(!) for his beatification.
From there we moved to Rubaga cathedral, the Mother of all Church in Uganda.
Here Jo became all excited sharing with us his own amazement that this huge
church was built by a whole team of our outstanding brothers but with Br
Cyprian, a professional taylor!, as the main builder. When we celebrated
the centenary of the coming of our confreres to Uganda, a Comboni Br Bruno,
was asked to inspect it and he was amazed at how perfect it was, not even a
nail! Moreover, we found it fascinating to see how Br Joseph MHM had
brought in the Mill side adding bright and inspiring stain glass windows,
depicting many if not all of the martyrs.
We then took some time in quiet meditation around the cathedral. In the
meantime, Richard Nyombi, at a last minute inspiration, got the permission
for us to visit the chapel of Archbishop Cyprian where the bones of our
pioneer confreres are. We were disappointed, however, to find that the
remains of Livinhac were in the archives room and those of Lourdel and Amans
in boxes in the sacristy. All the more reason for us to take them home to
our next and final station: Nabulagala.
It will be there that our final celebration will take place with either
Cardinal Wamala or the Nuntio presiding June 26th. It was Cardinal Wamala
who suggested that Nabulagala be entrusted to our care. Up until now it was
an outstation, but as it was there that the first Eucharist was celebrated
in Ugandan, we hope to make it a pilgrimage centre to honor the origins of
our faith here in Uganda. After Jo's presentation, (and he is at home there
with the PP Richard Nyombi and Charles Kasule, curate), we most
appropriately completed our pilgrimage with the Eucharist. Jo was attended
by two of our most senior confreres, Jean LeVacher and Henri Valette.
Amazingly, both of them took a plunge down the undetected steps of the altar
and were able to come out of it without breaking any bones! Our mzees are
made of solid material, but most likely Mapeera/Amans protected them!
It is the intention of the organizing committee and Vocations team under the
direction of Venerato Babaine, to extend this Buganda Event to all the
dioceses to which the faith spread from this, the Mother of all Churches. It
is heart warming to see how enthusiastic the reception has been so far.
Roger LaBonté M.Afr.
* 2008 :The beginning of the Mission in southern Uganda and the organization of the catechumenate 1879-1914 by Marinus Rooijackers
* 12 May 1890 - Death of Father Lourdel (1853-1890) (by Fr. Stefaan Minnaert M.Afr. & photos archives)
* Archbishop Léon Livinhac, (White Father) Founder of the Catholic Church in Buganda, 1846-1922 (by Fr. Stefaan Minnaert M.Afr. & photos archives)