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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Pope meets the clergy of Uganda: maintain memory and continue to bear witness

Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) The Pope's day ended with an encounter with the priests, men and women religious, and seminarians in the cathedral of Kampala, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Beforehand the Holy Father met with the bishops of Uganda, around thirty in number, including bishops emeritus, in the archbishop's residence near the cathedral.

Upon arrival he was greeted by the bishop responsible for consecrated life, John Baptist Kaggwa, to whom he handed the discourse he had prepared for the occasion, and addressed some extemporaneous remarks in Spanish to those present, apologising for nt doing so in English.

“There are three things I want to say”, Francis began. “First, in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds his people: 'Do not forget'. He repeats it several times throughout the book: 'Do not forget'. Do not forget all that God has done for the people. The first thing I want to say is: ask for the grace of memory. As I said to the young, the blood of the Catholics of Uganda is mixed the blood of martyrs. Do not lose the memory of this seed, so in this way you will continue to grow. The main enemy of memory is forgetfulness, but it is not the most dangerous. The most dangerous enemy of memory is getting used to inheriting the goods of our fathers. The Church in Uganda should never grow accustomed to viewing her martyrs as a distant memory. Martyr means witness. The Church in Uganda, to be faithful to this memory, must continue to be a witness. You should not 'live off the interest'. Past glories have been the beginning, but you must build future glories too. And this is the task that the Church entrusts to you: to bear witness, like the martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel”.

“In order to be witnesses, we need faithfulness. Fidelity to memory, fidelity to our vocation, fidelity to apostolic zeal. Faithfulness means following the way of holiness. It means doing what previous witnesses did: being missionaries. Perhaps here in Uganda there are dioceses that have many priests and dioceses that have few. Faithfulness means suggesting to the bishop that you go to another diocese in need of missionaries. And this is not easy. Faithfulness means perseverance in your vocation. Here I wish to thank the Sisters of the House of Mercy in a special way for the example of faithfulness they give: fidelity to the poor, the sick and the needy, because Christ is there. Uganda has been irrigated by the blood of martyrs and witnesses. Today it is necessary to continue to irrigate it, and to welcome new challenges, new witnesses and new missions. Otherwise, you will lose the great wealth you have, and the 'pearl of Africa' will end up preserved in a museum, because this is how the devil attacks , little by little. I am speaking not only to priests, but also to the religious. But I wish to say this in a special way to priests, with regard to the problem of mission: may priests in dioceses where the clergy is well-represented offer themselves to diocese with fewer clergy, so Uganda can continue to be missionary”.

“Memory, which means fidelity; and fidelity, which is only possible with the prayer. If a religious, a nun or a priest stops praying or prays rarely, because he or she has a lot of work, then he or she has already started to lose memory, which means losing faithfulness. Prayer also means humiliation: the humiliation of going regularly to the confessor, to tell him your sins. You can not limp with both legs. We men and women religious, priests can not lead a double life. If you are a sinner, if you are a sinner, ask forgiveness. But not to hide a lack of fidelity. Do not close memory away in the cupboard”.

“Memory, new challenges, faithfulness to memory, and prayer. Prayer always begins with recognition that we are sinners. With these three pillars the “pearl of Africa” will continue to be a pearl, and not just a phrase we find in the dictionary. May the martyrs, who gave strength to this Church, help you to move forward in memory, fidelity and prayer. And please, I ask you not to forget to pray for me”.

Finally, Pope Francis invited those present to pray the Hail Mary together.

The following is the discourse prepared by the Holy Father for his encounter with the clergy.

“Dear Brother Priests, Religious and Seminarians,

I am happy to be with you, and I thank you for your cordial welcome. I especially thank the speakers for bearing witness to your hopes and concerns, and, above all, the joy which inspires you in your service to God’s people in Uganda.

I am pleased, too, that our meeting takes place on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, a season which invites us to look to new beginnings. This Advent we are also preparing to cross the threshold of the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which I have called for the whole Church.

As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, I would ask you two questions. First: who are you, as priests or future priests, and as consecrated persons? In one sense, the answer is an easy one: surely you are men and women whose lives have been shaped by a 'personal encounter with Jesus Christ'. Jesus has touched your hearts, called you by name, and asked you to follow him with an undivided heart in the service of his holy people.

The Church in Uganda has been blessed, in its short yet venerable history, with a great cloud of witnesses – lay faithful, catechists, priests and religious – who forsook everything for the love of Jesus: homes, families, and, in the case of the martyrs, their own lives. In your own lives, whether in the priestly ministry or in your religious consecration, you are called to carry on this great legacy, above all with quiet acts of humble service. Jesus wants to use you to touch the hearts of yet other people: he wants to use your mouths to proclaim his saving word, your arms to embrace the poor whom he loves, your hands to build up communities of authentic missionary disciples. May we never forget that our 'yes' to Jesus is a 'yes' to his people. Our doors, the doors of our churches, but above all the doors of our hearts, must constantly be open to God’s people, our people. For that is who we are.

A second question I would ask you tonight is: What more are you called to do in living your specific vocation? Because there is always more that we can do, another mile to be walked on our journey.

God’s people, indeed all people, yearn for new life, forgiveness and peace. Sadly, there are many troubling situations in our world for which we must pray, beginning with realities closest to us. I pray especially for the beloved people of Burundi, that the Lord may awaken in their leaders and in society as a whole a commitment to dialogue and cooperation, reconciliation and peace. If we are to accompany those who suffer, then like the light passing through the stained glass windows of this Cathedral, we must let God’s power and healing pass through us. We must first let the waves of his mercy flow over us, purify us, and refresh us, so that we can bring that mercy to others, especially those on the peripheries.

All of us know well how difficult this can be. There is so much work to be done. At the same time, modern life also offers so many distractions which can dull our consciences, dissipate our zeal, and even lure us into that 'spiritual worldliness' which eats away at the foundations of the Christian life. The work of conversion – that conversion which is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus – must be carried out each day, in the battle to recognise and overcome those habits and ways of thinking which can fuel spiritual complacency. We need to examine our consciences, as individuals and as communities.

As I mentioned, we are entering the season of Advent, which is a time of new beginnings. In the Church we like to say that Africa is the continent of hope, and with good reason. The Church in these lands is blessed with an abundant harvest of religious vocations. This evening I would offer a special word of encouragement to the young seminarians and religious present. The Lord’s call is a source of joy and a summons to serve. Jesus tells us that 'it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks'. May the fire of the Holy Spirit purify your hearts, so that you can be joyful and convincing witnesses to the hope of the Gospel. You have a beautiful word to speak! May you always speak it, above all, by the integrity and conviction of your lives.

Dear brothers and sisters, my visit to Uganda is brief, and today was a very long day! But I consider our meeting tonight to be the crowning of this beautiful day when I was able to go as a pilgrim to the Shrine of the Uganda Martyrs at Namugongo, and to meet with the many young people who are the future of the nation and our Church. Truly I leave Africa with great hope in the harvest of grace which God is preparing in your midst! I ask all of you to pray for an outpouring of apostolic zeal, for joyful perseverance in the calling you have received, and, above all, for the gift of a pure heart ever open to the needs of all our brothers and sisters. In this way the Church in Uganda will truly prove worthy of its glorious heritage and face the challenges of the future with sure hope in Christ’s promises. I will remember all of you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me!”.

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