Uganda, The Catholic Church in
UGANDA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Republic of Uganda straddles the equator in East Africa, bordering Sudan on the north, Kenya on the east, Tanzania on the south, Rwanda on the southwest and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) on the west. Lake Victoria is located in the southeast corner of Uganda, and the waters of the Nile flow northward from there, beginning at the Rippon Falls and branching through several lakes in the central region on their way to Egypt. Mountains rise in the east and west, while a plateau region in the southwest is heavily forested at its western edge. A land of many lakes, approximately onefifth of Uganda is covered by water. Agricultural crops include cotton, coffee, tea and sugar, while natural resources consist of copper, phosphates and salt. Coffee is the region's main export crop in this primarily agricultural nation.
Uganda was a British protectorate from 1894 until 1962, when it became a fully independent member of the British Commonwealth. Its inhabitants comprise four ethnic groups: Bantu, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic and Sudanic, divided into 36 tribes, with many different languages. The recipient of a large amount of foreign aid, Uganda was fortunate when Great Britain determined to cancel all monies owed it as part of the Jubilee 2000 goal of providing debt relief to developing nations. Tragically, Uganda was also one of the African nations hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic: by 2000 ten percent of the population was infected, leaving 1.7 million children orphaned.
History . Uganda witnessed some of its first Caucasian visitors in 1862 when British explorer John Speke crossed the region in his search for the source of the Nile. Four White Fathers began Catholic evangelization in 1879, nearly two years after the arrival of Anglican missionaries. The zeal of the early converts helped to spread Catholicity rapidly, although it also led to rivalry and factionalism. The persecution of 1885–87 produced the 22 uganda martyrs canonized in 1964. By 1888 Catholics numbered 8,500. Civil wars between Muslims and Christians, and later between the English (Protestants) and the French (Catholics) halted mission activity for some years, but by 1890 the region was under British control. In 1894 the mill hill missionaries took charge of eastern Uganda, and the Verona Fathers, the northern part. Their efforts were successful: In 1905 Catholics numbered 86,000, and in 1923, 375,000. Joseph Kiwanuka, consecrated in 1939, became the first native bishop of modern times. The hierarchy was created in 1953 with the Archdiocese of rubaga as sole metropolitan see.
On Oct. 9, 1962 Uganda was granted independence from Great Britain, implemented a republican constitution
in 1967, and briefly joined Kenya and Tanzania in the East African Community. However, a military coup staged in 1971 brought dictator Idi Amin to power, and with him a severe suppression of society and the Church. Over 300,000 individuals were killed under Amin's brutal regime, some of them Catholics. While Amin was deposed in early 1979, guerillas active in the north and southwest continued to disrupt the stability of Nigeria, and the death toll under the government of Milton Obote (1980–85) reached 100,000 lives. Church leaders were by now vigilant in their efforts to publicly address the government's disregard of human rights, and they were also forced to marshal their resources against a new devastation: the spread of aids, which was increasingly impacting the Ugandan population. In 1995 a new constitution was drafted and multiparty elections restored Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to the position he had held since a coup staged in January of 1986. Elected president with 74 percent of the vote, Museveni's administration was shadowed by allegations of fraud prompted by the revelation that there were more votes cast than were citizens. While successful in stabilizing the Ugandan economy, Museveni's government was accused of corruption, and his ability to sustain prosperity continued to be questioned into 2000.
By 2000 Uganda contained 384 parishes tended by 1,110 diocesan and 335 religious priests. Through the work of 455 brothers and 2,800 sisters, the Catholic mission maintained much-needed hospitals, dispensaries, leprosaria, a school for the blind and training centers for social workers. In 2001 the Holy See aided their efforts through its donation of $ 500,000 toward efforts to combat AIDS in Uganda. The Church maintained amicable relations with members of other faiths as well as with the state, although certain Christian "fringe" churches were forbidden by the government to operate under the suspicion that they were cults. The Church's efforts to reach out to the nation's warring tribal groups were encouraged by Pope John Paul II, who noted during a 1997 meeting with Ugandan bishops that "Tribal rivalries and ethnic hostilities cannot have any place in the Church of God and among His holy people." The mission operated 3,350 Catholic primary schools and 425 secondary
schools within Uganda; religion was not taught in publicrun educational facilities. Issues facing Church leaders into the 21st century included an effort by a Ugandan minister to legalize prostitution, the introduction of an abortion pill by the government and continued activities by several rebel forces that often focused on the Church. In June of 1999 the Catholic peace group Sant'Egidio was successful in its efforts to bring about a peace between the government and one insurgent group that had been holding 109 Catholic school students hostage for over a year.
Bibliography: k. ingham, The Making of Modern Uganda (London 1958). h. p. gale, Uganda and the Mill Hill Fathers (London 1959). Bilan du Monde 2:655–661. Catholic Directory of Eastern Africa 1965 (Tabora, Tanzania) biannual. Annuario Pontificio has annual statistics on all dioceses.
[j. f. faupel/eds.]