Uganda’s seminaries are full to overflowing
"I will go, Lord"
“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord...”. Thirty-five young men are singing in the hall of St. Mary’s National Seminary in Ggaba, a suburb of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, with great fervour and in strong voice. They are about to be ordained as priests, after successfully concluded their studies and passing their final exams. Very soon it will be time to bid farewell to the seminary and go out as priests to wherever God sends them. All of them are ready for that.
Many members of their extended families have travelled here, to congratulate their sons, brothers and cousins on this great day. The women are decked out in festive clothing, the children scrubbed clean and brightly clad. As each name is called out, there is a shrill ululation and eager applause rings through the crowd. Everybody is overjoyed.
The Dean urges the seminarians to love their priesthood and to show others the true wonder of being a priest. During the Year for Priests proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, a music group in the Ggaba seminary recorded its own CD, entitled “You are a priest forever”. At the ordination celebration, songs from the CD are played, to enthusiastic applause. With an almost childlike eagerness, the seminarians have practised the dances and songs, so that they can share and celebrate the wonder of their vocation with others.
(Family members of a seminarian, rejoicing and applauding as he receives his diploma)
Through all the songs and speeches of this great day, it is not hard to see the joy these men have in their vocation. The future priests are reminded that they must be ready, with a smile, available to God and at the service of the faithful. In doing so they are not to follow their own will, but to go wherever they are sent, even if this should be the remotest of villages where there is no electricity or running water and where people can neither read nor write. For there too the people are waiting for the one who can bring Christ to them – the priest. During their training, the seminarians have already completed a pastoral year in a parish, learning what it means to be close to the people in all their needs, joys and sorrows.
Today there are 1,130 mostly young men studying in the four national seminaries of the country and in the seminary for late vocations, preparing one day to become priests. The seminaries are full to overflowing, and many have to share with up to seven in one room. Meanwhile the number of vocations is rising, year by year.
There are many people in the West who maintain that in the Third World, and especially in Africa, many young men want to become priests in order to achieve a better standard of living. The real truth, however, is that there are many highly intelligent and well educated young men who renounce the idea of a glittering secular career in order to devote themselves to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Take for example Bernard, from Fort Portal in southwest Uganda. He was one of the brightest pupils in the entire country. His friends and relatives urged him to study law and become a lawyer. He could have been wealthy and been part of the elite of the country. Everyone told him he could achieve wonderful things. But in his own mind he was quite clear - he wanted to become a priest. And so he answered all those who sought to turn him away from his path, saying "God too intends to do wonderful things!" Only his mother supported him on his path to the priesthood.
Despite the apparently high number of vocations in Uganda, the country still has a shortage of priests. Uganda has a population of over 28 million with approximately 13 million Catholics and every year there are over 400,000 baptisms taking place throughout the country. On average there are 7,000 Catholic faithful to every priest, and there are some regions – like the diocese of Lira in Northern Uganda – where one priest has to minister to some 28,000 Catholic faithful. Even though news reports stating "Uganda's seminaries are bursting at the seams" and "The Church in Uganda is very short of priests" seem contradictory, they are both true.
(St. Mary's National Major Seminary, Ggaba
Graduation day. Seminarians singing at the graduation celebration)
Many more young and well-trained priests are also needed to prevent the mushrooming sects and free churches gaining a stronger presence amongst the Catholic faithful. In almost every street today, in some former garage or shed, one can find the "temples" of the sects, with bizarre names, promising the people miracles. Witchcraft is likewise spreading once again, and not infrequently children are abducted and sacrificed in the hope of securing wealth. The Catholic Church is facing massive challenges here.
But it is not only the seminarians who need our support, but likewise the priests who train them. For they too make great sacrifices. A lecturer in a secular university in Uganda can earn $1,000 a month, whereas a lecturer in a Catholic seminary earns just $150. It is certain that no one here becomes a lecturer in a seminary in order to grow rich! And it is not as if there is time to earn a little extra through service in a parish, for the care and promotion of vocations is a task requiring the greatest degree of attention and absolute commitment. For it is not simply a matter of providing these young men with the academic equipment they need to be able to proclaim the Faith, but instead they must also be humanly and spiritually moulded and supported. That is why the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), as well as assisting the seminarians also helps the academic staff with Mass offerings, so that they can devote themselves fully to their work in the seminaries. For good formators, who can devote time to the needs of the seminarians, are a precondition for good priests.
With full hearts, these future priests in Ggaba sing the Creed in the Luganda language, one of the major languages spoken in Uganda. It is a deep and haunting sound. The seed has fallen on good soil here, it seems. But there are many places in Uganda where the Catholic faithful are still waiting for priests, whose lives can be a visible profession of faith for them. May there be many more young Ugandan men who respond to the call of God, saying, "I will go, Lord..."
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Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 46.5 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
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