Uganda president Yoweri Museveni will on Sunday grace the celebrations of 150 years since the founding of the Catholic missionary society which evangelized Uganda.
Last Wednesday, Uganda’s president received a delegation of missionaries led by Kampala archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga. The delegation had the superior general of the Missionaries of Africa, Fr Stanley Lubango, the provincial superior of Eastern Africa province Fr Aloysius Ssekamatte, and two assistants to the superior general, including Fr Francis Burns the First assistant to the superior general.
The importance of the meeting might have passed many people but significantly it brings back memories of the first missionaries who started Catholicism in Uganda back in 1879.
On that fateful day French clerics Fr Simeon Lourdel better known as Mapera and his assistant Br Amans Delmas, had arrived in the kingdom of Buganda ruled by the clever kabaka, Mutesa I. They landed in Kigungu in Entebbe on February 17, 1879, a few kilometres from where the current State House seats and where president Museveni met the successors of Fr Mapera. Mutesa would grant the missionaries permission to start mission in his kingdom, just three days after officially meeting them. He also gave the canoes to bring their colleagues into his country.
Some of the converts of these White Fathers, now known as Missionaries of Africa, are celebrated today as Uganda Martyrs, giving Uganda national pride and international acclaim. Till today, the remains of the first White Fathers; Fr. Lourdel, Fr. Barbot and Br. Amans are kept in the sacristy of the Archbishop’s Chapelin Rubaga.
This year, the Missionaries of Africa are celebrating 150 years since they were founded by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie of Algiers in 1868, with a mission to evangelize sub-Saharan Africa.
Cardinal Lavigerie, a French prelate wanted local Africans to be christianised, and he formed a community of preachers wearing a traditional Arab dress in Algiers, a white cassock with a red fez. The missionaries of Africa were in campaigning against slavery in the 19th century, one of the greatest evils in human history. The founder himself, Cardinal Lavigerie was a strong voice against slave trade in Europe and widely spoke against it.
Today, there are over 1500 priests, brothers and sisters and work in 22 African countries.
On 8th December 2019, a catholic calendar Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Queen of Africa, the Missionaries of Africa will commemorate the 150th anniversary their foundation in Namugongo. The superior general of the congregation is in the country for the celebrations which have taken three years in preparation.
The last Wednesday meeting at State House, saw President Museveni confirming his attendance for the celebrations in Namugongo, a special place in the history of catholic religion in Uganda.
It is almost unthinkable to talk about the evangelisation of Uganda and Africa at large without mentioning the Missionaries of Africa. The clerics not only pioneered Catholic evangelism in Uganda but also offered holistic empowerment especially in areas of education and health.
150 years ago, on the 18 October 1868, the first novitiate of the Missionaries of Africa opened its doors at Rostan House in Ben-Aknoun on the heights of El Biar in Algeria.
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