Ssalongo and Nalongo Kizza of Jinja, Uganda noticed that they had a great deal to celebrate in one year: Patrick Kizza (2T Chicago), their son studying to become a priest for the Archdioceses of Chicago, was planning on returning home, their daughter Joanitah was quickly approaching her perpetual vows as a Little Sister of Saint Francis, and if that wasn’t enough, Ssalongo and Nalongo were to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
“Not many people make it to 50 years of marriage,” said Elizabeth Lutaaya, adopted mother of newly ordained priest, Fr. John Bosco Lutaaya (Mundelein Class of 2016) from the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero in Uganda.
This combination of special events was very worthy of celebration and extreme travel, and Patrick invited his seminarian brothers to join him in this distant and dusty part of the world. Skeptical though hopeful, I (Cristian Garcia, 1T Chicago) told Patrick that I would come and join him and his family to celebrate the occasion, despite all the barriers, including necessary travel vaccinations and medications, travel arrangements, and permission from my superiors. Thankfully, and with the assistance of the Knights of Columbus, I overcame these hurdles, not the least of which was a fear of getting mauled by lions.
Three encounters touched my heart when I was in Uganda. The first occurred at the so-called “House for the Destitutes.” Our host, Valeria Banaki, was a pivotal coordinator in an effort to visit these “destitutes.” Along with the women’s group from her parish, they would ask the local church communities after Mass if the people had any clothes they could donate to them.
“We don’t have much, but we have more than they do,” said Valeria. “We visit them twice a year, once during Christmas and another at Easter, to give them a small gift, and to share bread and a cup of tea with them.”
The women’s group brought us to a house of orphans and people with mental disabilities. Seeing there were not enough men’s shirts, I removed the one I had on and handed it to a frail young Ugandan man. After seeing how much he appreciated it, I went and had my cup of tea next to him. When I had my picture taken with some of the “destitutes,” I noticed that I was nearly double their size in almost every way.
The second encounter that tugged at my heartstrings was meeting the children. Their boundless joy amid extreme poverty astounded me. I met a boy named Elija who had no concept of different languages. We managed to have an hour-long conversation despite my initial, desperate attempts to tell him I didn’t understand Lugandan (a common language in Uganda).
While in Uganda, I had the chance to speak with Fr. John Bosco Lutaaya, whom I knew from Mundelein Seminary, about his experience coming back home to Uganda after studying in Illinois, U.S.A. I could see the love for God’s people radiating from his eyes as he was reflected on the difference between being back home in Uganda as a seminarian and being back home as a priest.
“It’s an entirely different experience,” Fr. Bosco said, “one of my biggest challenges is getting the Eucharist to all my parishioners on a weekly basis.”
Fr. John Bosco and his pastor have 19 sub-parishes within their parish boundaries, and they are responsible for visiting each of them every month. Progress can be seen, like the main church’s new tabernacle – a donation from a generous community in Chicago – and Fr. Bosco also intends on building a school for the local children.
I was blessed to serve Mass with Fr. Bosco at several of his rural communities. During one liturgy, Fr. Bosco baptized seven babies, one of whom had been recently abandoned by his father because he couldn’t take care of him. In that moment I realized that at Mundelein Seminary, I have the joy to study alongside some of the Church’s future saints.
Seeing Fr. Bosco in action made me hopeful and prayerful for his challenges and difficulties as a priest. His parishioners make the load lighter, and they give him the creative energy to provide more and more for them, just like a father would for his children.
The third memorable encounter was the memorably grand party I attended for the Kizza family. Ssalongo and Nalongo received an apostolic blessing from the Holy Father, and we congratulated their marriage and Sister Joanitah’s perpertual vows to Jesus Christ. Over 1,500 guests came out that day, under the hot Ugandan sun for a two-hour Mass of Thanksgiving and a full-day celebration. A party of this caliber would seem impossible, but not for this Ugandan village. It was a celebration of vocations. It was a celebration of love.
This celebration was an expression of that circular investment we seminarians are promised today, as future priests, and the promise we will make tomorrow, as priests to our parishioners. Please pray for Fr. Bosco, for an increase in all holy vocations, and for my seminarian brothers and I as we are formed into parish priests. Let’s continue the celebration.
Cristian Garcia Nuno in Uganda
Cristian Garcia Nuno - from politics to Mundelein Seminary