Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pentecost at Emmaus

The main altar at the Catholic Uganda Martyrs Shrine.
Jamie and I finished our time in Kampala last Wednesday, May 23. All in all it was a full week for us in the Ugandan capital. All told we visited a total of seven different sections of the Ugandan prison system: Remand, Murchison Bay, Kigo, Maximum and Condemned - all men, and the women's sections at Kigo and Luzira. In addition, we assisted at seven Masses at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Matugga, four of them as part of their pre-Pentecost novena. In addition, we participated in the weekly prayer meeting at Christ the King Parish in downtown Kampala.

An outdoor sculpture depicting the martyrdom of St. Charles Lwanga.
A visit to Kampala would not have been complete, however, without seeing the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namogongo. We were able to stop at both sites: the Church of Uganda shrine where most of the martyrs gave their lives in witness to Christ, and the Catholic basilica built over the spot where Charles Lwanga, the  leader of the Catholic martyrs, was immolated.

On Thursday, we headed north of the city to Emmaus Centre for Catholic Discipleship and Evangelization, to help lead the weekend Pentecost retreat that began that evening. We were collaborating with Fr. Stash who facilitated the retreat.

Jamie helping to lead worship.
The weekend consisted in several sessions each day, Mass and evening times of prayer and ministry. The themes, of course, all had to do with the Holy Spirit: His renewing and purifying power, the call to holiness and transformation, how He helps us to pray, His role as the Advocate, and the prophetic quality He imparts to the Word of God.

Reading the Gospel at Pentecost Mass.
The culmination of the retreat was Mass on Pentecost morning, presided by Fr. Stash. It lasted more than three hours and the congregation was exuberant.

Blessing small children after Communion.

The congregation praying for us at the end of Mass.

Fr. Stash and me.

I really liked this guy's jacket.
A special blessing for me and one of the reasons for the time at Emmaus was the opportunity to visit two youth from the Comboni group in Torit, Samuel Oryem and Elizabeth Pasquale, both of whom we are sponsoring in the nine-month discipleship formation program at Emmaus. They are part of a larger group of 11 youth which also includes Ugandans and Tanzanians. I was very proud and grateful to God to see how much they are learning and growing spiritually. I was also privileged to contribute to their formation by giving a morning of teaching on the role of the laity in the Church, referring to Blessed Pope John Paul's Apostolic Exhortation The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful. As Blessed John Paul reiterates, lay people are really on the "front lines" of the Church, especially now in the New Evangelization.

Samuel Oryem Paul and Elizabeth Pasquale from South Sudan.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lay Missionary Profile: James Murla

James Murla graduated from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in 2005 with a BS in math and a minor in physics. He currently works as a health physicist at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia. What does a “health physicist” do? Basically he trains technicians to enforce health and safety standards when dealing with radiation. But that’s just what he does to pay the bills. Another big part of his life has been working in youth and music ministry at Ascension Catholic Church in Virginia Beach for the past seven years.

Jamie first met Fr. Herald in Honduras on a mission trip in 2005. Since then, Jamie has traveled back to Honduras twice for short-term missions, and worked together with Fr. Herald in leading several retreats for the lay Catholic community Missioners of Christ. It was through his involvement with Missioners that Jamie also met and started working with Dr. Will Stallings.

Now the three of us have come together for an exciting and unique opportunity to minister to, learn from and walk beside God’s people in Africa.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Franciscan Uganda

Last Wednesday, May 16, Will, Jamie and I all departed from the Juba airport: Will to Nairobi then on to the US, Jamie and I (after a cancelled flight and an all-day wait) to Entebbe (Kampala), Uganda.

We were warmly welcomed by the Polish Conventual Franciscans who staff the recently formed St. Francis of Assisi Church, located a few miles north of Kampala on the main road. The friars have been there for three years and recently moved into their newly finished residence. One of the classrooms on the ground floor of the still-under-construction school serves as the temporary parish church. They hope to begin construction on a proper church in the near future, after the school is finished.

A quarry with a shallow pond and water lilies on the hill behind the parish.

The friary (orange roof, left) and school (red roof, center) from above.

The school, still under construction.

The temporary parish church on the ground floor of the school.
A good part of the outreach we’ve been doing in the Kampala area has been in conjunction with a Franciscan prison ministry team. We’ve been joining them in visiting a different section of the prison system each day. So far we’ve hit remand and Murchison Bay; later this week we’ll visit maximum, condemned and women’s. The visits  include praise and worship, led by Jamie, a talk about Easter and the Holy Spirit, sometimes Mass and finally praying with and over the inmates. The prisoners have been amazingly open and responsive, and the sessions have been exceptionally blessed. Unfortunately, because of prison regulations, we haven’t been able to take any photos of these activities.

Jamie teaching a song at an outdoor Mass for small Christian community.

Fr. Herald preaching while the catechist translates into Luganda.

Fr. Wojtek receives a chicken as part of the offertory.
One evening we also had the opportunity of celebrating Mass for the owners and employees of Delight Uganda (producer of Cheers juices) in Kampala on the site of their production facility. This is a company that has gone out of its way to provide jobs for those in need of employment, as well as having invested economically in South Sudan. Again, the enthusiastic response was overwhelming.

Fr. Simon and altar servers at Sunday Mass.
This past weekend we were very happy to plug into activities with the friars at St. Francis Parish, joining Fr. Wojtek for a small Christian community Mass in one of the outlying areas of the parish, and concelebrating and preaching with Fr. Simon at the two Sunday Masses at the school.

The Sunday collection, including potatoes, matoke (green plantains) and two chickens. 

On Sunday afternoon it was a special joy to catch up with Agnes Kiyimba, and meet her daughter Mary Nicolette. I married Dennis and Agnes in Kampala in December 2010, and their daughter Mary was born last November. I worked closely with Dennis in South Sudan while I was stationed there, and we just saw him in Torit last week. Their daughter is a beautiful, peaceful, joyful baby who has the special blessing of having two faith-filled, committed Catholics for parents.

Mary Nicolette (Nelia) Kiyimba.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Few Days in Isohe

Right after landing in Torit, Fr. Herald, Will and Jamie made proximate preparations to head straight on to Isohe, a town about two hours away. Fr. Chris, MSP, graciously allowed us to use his vehicle, so we pulled together some supplies and hit the road.

Isohe is one of the most beautiful places in the Diocese of Torit, especially at this time of year when the vegetation is lush from the abundant rains. Isohe sits on a small plateau, nestled in the crevice of the mountains that surround it on three sides. This gives the center of the village where the church is located a stunning backdrop. It's almost impossible to capture the dramatic beauty of the mountains that tower behind the buildings and yet seem almost close enough to reach out and touch.

As we approached Isohe, a heavy rainstorm was just finishing over the town. This produced an amazingly vivid rainbow over the road leading into the village, one that we seemed to pass right under as we got close.

St. Theresa Church, Isohe (above and below).

One of the principal reasons for our visit to Isohe was for Dr. Will to be able to work for a few days with Dr. Brian Madison, a Southern Sudanese doctor Dr. Will met there last fall. We were very pleasantly surprised to learn that another doctor, Jude - from Uganda, had since joined the staff.

Drs. Brian, Jude  and Will making rounds accompanied by a nurse.

One of the wards in Isohe Hospital.
The hospital staff at St. Theresa's is extremely, even heroically dedicated to their work and their patients, at times even donating blood themselves for transfusions when there is no other source. They are in the process of completing a surgical section, mostly for emergency c-section deliveries when normal birth is not possible. Once complete, it will have to be equipped. The hospital lab is able to do very basic clinical analysis, but lacks the equipment to do more sophisticated and complete testing. Dr. Will and I have spoken to the staff about their needs, and we are in the process of trying to figure out how we might help get needed and important equipment to assist and improve the medical care they are able to offer. More on that to come!  

Sister Theresa, hospital administrator, in the children's ward.
While Dr. Will was working with Drs. Brian and Jude, Jamie and I did a little impromptu evangelization in the pavilion where local mothers bring their children to be weighed and evaluated. Underweight and malnourished children receive a nutrition rich dietary supplement to help raise their  body weight. We sang some songs and showed a few Bible videos to the waiting mothers and children.

Each afternoon of our visit we also conducted a time of Eucharistic adoration for the children of the village, which included songs, the Rosary in their local language led by Sr. Paskwina - principal of the local Catholic school - and a blind catechist.

Following the time of prayer in the church, we showed an animated Bible video on a small television in the back of our vehicle, which the children crowded around to watch.

 Trying to be as self sufficient as possible, the Sacred Heart Sisters in Isohe raise chickens, ducks and turkeys.

In true missionary style, our road trip through mud and dust necessitated doing laundry (by hand with water pumped from a well, of course) upon our return to Torit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Will & Jamie Arrive in Nairobi

Jamie and Will, the "monkey magnets."
Last Sunday, May 6th, Will Stallings and Jamie Murla arrived in Nairobi. They traveled overnight by bus from the Virginia Beach area right after the wedding of Josh Dart and Angela Cruciano, both of whom participated in a mission trip to South Sudan in May-June of 2010. All are associated with the lay community Missioners of Christ, based in the Diocese of Richmond Virginia with a permanent outreach in Comayagua, Honduras, very near our CFR Friars there. Missioners have participated in more than six mission trips to South Sudan, including two extended stays of several months. Jamie and Will were welcomed by the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in Pangani, and while waiting for me to arrive, made a trip to nearby City Park, know for its large population of friendly monkeys.

Huruma Slums, Nairobi.
I flew in from South Sudan on Monday, May 7, to meet them and organize the next leg of our journey. The next day, Tuesday, I was busy getting tickets and making other travel arrangements, while Will and Jamie joined the MC Fathers' candidates on their weekly visit to the MC Sisters' home for handicapped children, located in the midst of the Huruma (the word means "mercy") slums in Nairobi.

Jamie and Collins.

Will feeding a friend.

MC Fathers candidates: Alban from Ivory Coast and Titus from Kenya.

With all the pieces in place, we departed early the next morning for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and from there caught a mission flight to Torit, which left us on the landing strip on the outskirts of town before continuing on to its next stop.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sunday Masses on the Road in Imurok

The road to Imurok.
On Sunday, May 7, I accompanied Fr. Chris, MSP, the two seminarians (Richard and Dennis) staying with him, and four youth to celebrate Mass at the outstations in the area of Imurok that he has been visiting regularly now for several weeks. The first stop was in Goronyo, a community that is just getting organized. Fr. Chris had stopped by once or twice before to meet the Christians there, help them begin to prepare for Mass by practicing parts like the "Lord Have Mercy," "Gloria," "Holy, Holy," and other hymns in their local language of Lotuko. Some members of the de-mining team (removing land mines left over from the war) working in the area and camping next door joined us for Mass.

The large tree in front of the school in Goronyo where Mass was celebrated.

The de-miners camp.
Fr. Chris and Martha (a youth translator) in the classroom preparing for Mass.

After Mass we packed up and headed south toward Kurmush, only to find a cement causeway over a seasonal waterway blocked by trees that fell during the heavy rains and accumulated on the current side of the causeway, obstructing the water from flowing through the opening below and causing it to swell and overflow the causeway. Fortunately, a road crew was already present, clearing the logs. 

The blocked bridge between Goronyo and Kurmush.
The large log pictured in the clip below had to be cut first, since it was causing the rear tires of the crane truck to lift off the ground.

Since the clearing took a while, an alternative route was taking by some people, and some very uncertain and unwilling goats. I think there's a lesson for us in this, about trusting the Good Shepherd to point us in the right direction even when it seems unfamiliar and threatening to us.

Fr. Chris and seminarian Richard caught me videoing them and hammed it up a little.

Fr. Chris, Richard and three of the youth who accompanied us.

We were a little concerned that the Christians waiting for us in Kurmush may have become discouraged and gone home, but we were really inspired to find them still waiting for us under the tree for Mass.

The chapel in Kurmush.

The sanctuary and altar in Kurmush.
I was even more edified when I saw how carefully this newly organized community prepared for Mass by building a small shelter for the sanctuary and carefully practicing the songs for Mass, such as the Gloria (in Lotuko) below, which has very beautiful men's and women's harmonies.

Last Sunday was an exceptionally beautiful, clear, fresh, cool day. And celebrating Mass in Kurmush, with the green hills, bananas and palms in the background, with little children watching the white priest with wide-eyed wonder, was one of those vivid "missionary moments" for me. I couldn't help but wondering how amazing it was that the Gospel of Jesus preached by Jewish fishermen had somehow reached this remote part of Africa two millennia later.

The offertory.

A view from the rear during the closing hymn.