The Catholic Bishops in Uganda have launched an appeal to priests from across the country to volunteer and provide pastoral care to the people living in the refugee camps.
In a statement released to the media on 16th, June, 2017, and signed by the chairman of Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) and the Archbishop Bishop of Gulu Most Rev. John Baptist Odama, the growing number of refugees in the Diocese of Arua was overwhelming for the pastoral possibilities of the local Church.
“We note with deep concern the influx of refugees into Uganda following conflicts and economic hardship in some of our neighboring countries, especially South Sudan. We, therefore, launch an appeal to all our priests from other dioceses to consider volunteering to go and provide pastoral care to the people in the refugee camps.” The statement read in part
The Bishops encouraged all Catholics and local communities in the refugee host communities to continue embracing refugees and providing them with the solace they need to live dignified lives emphasising that, the local churches in those areas should put in place effective pastoral programmes that will enable refugees to draw strength and hope from the living Word of God and the Sacraments.
They however cautioned families and parish communities in the affected areas to take all possible measures to discourage young Ugandan men from joining the military forces of any of the factions involved in the South Sudanese conflict.
The Bishops promised to continue providing services to refugees through the local churches and various agencies such as Caritas that is already on the ground, committing to pray for the various actors involved in refugee response and for refugees themselves so that together a lasting solution to their plight can be found.
The prelates further condemned the recent cases of torture in Uganda perpetuated by some security agencies that have been reported in the country, this they believe is a grave violation of human rights guaranteed by the constitution.
They noted that many suspects have remained under police and military detention beyond the mandatory constitutional 48 hours and those who get a chance to be taken to courts of law have been subjected to long periods of remand with clear instances of delayed trial.
They further noted Article 24 and 44(a) of the national Constitution which mandates all people including security personnel to respect human dignity. Hence, they called upon government to bring to book all perpetrators especially within security agencies and the outcome of any disciplinary measures taken be made public.
The bishops also urged government to consider undertaking special investigations aimed at finding a long-term solution to the problem in the Rwenzori region to avoid a repetition of the November 2016 Kasese killings and destruction of property.
Meanwhile, the prelates condemned the government plans to amend Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution which guarantees one the right to own property either individually or in association with others.
However, the Catholic Church is calling for the government to find alternatives to the proposal and look into the rampart land conflicts in the country that have already caused a great loss of lives and property.
The church leaders also condemned the government plans of seeking to adopt and pass a law introducing contraceptives for children in member states through the East African Legislative Assembly.
According to the bishops, the danger with this law if passed at the regional level is that it will automatically bind the East African Community member states to provide contraceptives and abortion, among others, to all EAC citizens, including children.
They also pointed out some of the issues affecting youth which includes abuse of drugs and alcohol due to factors such as unemployment, domestic violence and breakup of families revealing that, the Catholic Church in Uganda is carrying out consultations to establish the pastoral needs of the youth ahead of the 2018 Synod of Bishops at the Vatican on youth, faith and vocational discernment.
The bishops reminded Ugandans to reflect on Pope Francis’ message of hope during his 2015 visit to Uganda. “Remembrance amid new challenges,” he said in the last talk of his visit, “fidelity to memory and fidelity to prayer … With these three pillars, the ‘Pearl of Africa’ will continue to be a pearl and not just an empty word.”
By Jacinta W. Odongo