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Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Visit to Uganda

5 - 10 February 1993

Blessed John Paul II was a pilgrim to Uganda during his 57th apostolic journey, on which he also visited Benin & Sudan. Click here for links to all his talks.

John Paul II's Address at the Welcoming Ceremony
Friday, 5th February, at the International Airport of Entebbe - in English & Italian

"Your Excellency President Museveni, Honourable Members of the Government, My Brother Bishops, Dear Ugandan Friends,

1. At the beginning of my Pastoral Visit to Uganda, I cannot fail to offer a fervent prayer of thanks to Almighty God who has given me the joy of this moment. To all of you who have come here to welcome me with characteristic African hospitality I am truly grateful. I thank Your Excellency and the Bishops for inviting me to Uganda, and I ask God to reward all who have worked to make this visit possible.

2. I come to Uganda with deep affection for all her people. My journey brings me here at a significant turning–point in her development. This is a period of reconstruction, not just of the economy but especially of the moral fibre of the nation. No one can ignore the considerable challenges that must be faced, but you are already showing that Ugandans, drawing above all on their own rich human resources, are fully capable of making this land a peaceful, secure home for everyone. All Ugandans are called to put aside the conflicts of the past, to seek reconciliation with one another, and to work together to build a society in which the dignity of the human person and respect for human rights will be the norm of conduct for all. In this great endeavour the Catholic Church will continue to play her part, in accordance with her religious nature and mission, in effective and generous cooperation with all sectors of the population. As with all my journeys, this visit has an eminently religious and pastoral purpose. It is the visit of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St Peter, to the local Churches in this land. As the one entrusted with the care of the universal Church I feel a special responsibility towards the young Churches of Africa. As often as possible I have tried to visit them, praying with them and rejoicing in their fresh vitality and joy–filled fidelity to the Lord. On these visits it is my concern to strengthen the faith of my Catholic brothers and sisters (cf Lk 22:32), and to encourage their unity in the one Gospel of Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again as the promise of new life (cf Rom 4:25). I look forward to celebrating, in Kampala, in Gulu, in Kasese, in Soroti, the grace of our adoption as God’s beloved children (cf 1 Jn 3:1-2). I also wish to extend the hand of friendship to the Christians of other confessions, to whom we are linked by being grafted on to Christ through the grace of Baptism. Be assured, dear Friends, of the Catholic Church’s firm commitment to the growth of ecumenical understanding and cooperation. To the followers of the other religious traditions too I offer my cordial greetings and good wishes.

3. I return to Africa at a decisive moment. A world divided into opposing economic and military blocs is being replaced by a world increasingly affected by a distressing imbalance between a developed North and a struggling South. As a new structure of international relationships emerges, it is vital for the cause of world peace and justice that Africa should be given its proper place. Is it a vain hope to think that this visit, in its own way, might serve to keep before public opinion the developed world’s responsibilities towards Africa? Neglect must not follow the former exploitation. It would indeed be tragic if this Continent, after enduring the unspeakable sufferings of the slave trade, the evil effects of colonialism and, more recently, the sad experiences of civil war, subservience to fruitless ideologies or misguided policies, should now be denied the help it needs in order to take its destiny into its own hands. Surely the nations of Africa have a right to expect disinterested help in securing genuine independence, so that at last they will be able to build their own future in their own way. Yes, Africa, based on its noblest cultural values and traditions, can find in itself the strength and inspiration to develop in solidarity, harmony and justice. My prayer and hope is that Africans will help one another to progress towards a better life, a freer and more brotherly life on this Continent. This is my firm conviction: that such progress is possible, and that the Church which I represent can greatly contribute to it. I am convinced that Africa’s well–being is supremely important to the world, for what you have to offer is decisive: a sense of man, a sense of God. For me, therefore, this visit means drawing attention to this Continent, and to the problems it forcefully sets before us: poverty and need, the terrible human cost of chronic conflict, the plight of millions of displaced persons, and yet an abiding sense of the spiritual dimension of man, of human dignity and respect for people.

4. Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends: My pilgrimage has brought me to the Uganda of the Martyrs. May the freedom to profess one’s faith, to which the martyrs’ sacrifice bore the supreme witness, be the guarantee of every citizen’s right and duty to share effectively in the nation’s life. May the vital relationship with God, so characteristic of African culture – the opposite of a materialism which ends in slavery to selfish individualism – sustain you all in serving the common good, in building society on strong ethical principles, in opening your hearts to the suffering and needy among you. May your faith in God inspire you to give the best of yourselves to the construction of a new and better Uganda, where justice and peace will reign.

Nsanyuse nnyo okubalaba.
Katonda Kitaffe abakuume,
Era akuume Uganda

John Paul II's Homily at the Eucharistic Celebration
for the Faithful of the Diocese of Northern Uganda - at Kaunda Grounds, Gulu on Saturday, 6 February 1993

Rwot waco ni "An Lakwat Maber" ("I am the good shepherd" (Jn. 10: 11), says the Lord)

"Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. In the Gospel, Jesus Christ declares: "the Father loves me, because I lay down my life [for my sheep].. No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own free will." In the Old Testament, God had already proclaimed through the Prophets that he is like a shepherd who looks after his sheep and cares for them (cf Ez 34: 11). These words were fulfilled in Jesus, the Good Shepherd "who lays down his life for his sheep" (Jn 10: 11). Jesus laid down his life out of love. He loves the Father and all whom the Father has given him. He gave his own life so that all people might have eternal life. Christ, the Good Shepherd, brings salvation. Because of his love for the Father, the Son goes out in search of every human being. He wants to save all men and women, to lead them back to the Father’s house. The parable of the Good Shepherd helps us to understand the mystery of our Redemption. Each of us has been redeemed by the love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Son’s love for us is so great that he offered his life in sacrifice. He freely embraced the Cross. "No one takes my life from me", says Christ, "I lay it down of my own free will" (Jn 10: 18). Jesus’ death on the Cross is the perfect sacrifice of love and the price of our salvation.

2. In every age and in all lands the mystery of Christ’s saving love is proclaimed by the Church built upon the Apostles. Today we rejoice that the faith of the Apostles has taken root in Africa, in Uganda, and borne fruit in the lives of all who believe in Christ. From the day when the Holy Spirit first descended upon the Apostles in the Upper Room, Christ’s Church has never ceased to preach the Gospel to people of every nation under heaven (cf Acts. 2: 5). At this Eucharist we recall with gratitude those who first brought you the Catholic and Apostolic faith. We give thanks for all who have strengthened you by their words and deeds, and planted the seeds which, by God’s grace, will yield an ever more abundant harvest.

Today the Pope, the Successor of the Apostle Peter, rejoices that the Good Shepherd has called the beloved people of Uganda to become members of his flock. With affection in the Lord, I embrace all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I greet my Brother Bishops, especially Bishop Martin Luluga of Gulu, Bishop Frederick Drandua of Arua, Bishop Joseph Oyanga of Lira, and the other Bishops present, especially the Bishops of Sudan. My greetings go to the priests, the men and women Religious, seminarians, the catechists and all the lay faithful who make up your young and vibrant Churches. We are also honoured and grateful for the presence of His Excellency the President of the Republic, who joins us for this celebration in Northern Uganda.

3. In fulfilling the words of the Prophet, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, shows his concern for all those belonging to his flock: "I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong" (Ez 34: 16). The Good Shepherd is our defender: he protects the whole community, the whole flock, and all belonging to it. He defends it even at the risk of his own life. He is not like the hired man. The hired man is more concerned to save himself (cf Jn 1: 12-13). As soon as he sees a wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. The Good Shepherd also knows his sheep. He knows every one of us. He knows the true dignity of each person, because each person is made in the image and likeness of God himself (cf Gen 1: 26). This is why he knows and loves each human being. And this is why the Good Shepherd is ready to give his own life for each person. Christ loves each one of us in a unique and special way because he has ransomed each one of us by his death on the Cross. He paid for us with the greatest love. There can be no greater love than this (cf Jn 15: 13).

4. Christians of Uganda! The Good Shepherd is always in your midst! He loves you and he will never abandon you! Christ is in your midst in a special way through the ministry of the Bishops and the priests who nourish you with the word of God and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In his love, he sought you out through the work of the missionary priests, especially the Comboni Fathers, who came from afar in order to share the gift of faith with the people of Northern Uganda and to help your young communities to grow to maturity. Your priests’ faithful witness to the love of the Good Shepherd led some of them to lay down their own lives for the flock, sealing their love for their flock by following Christ to the full. They likewise help us to realize that missionary activity is an essential and never–ending task for the Church, and that the true vitality of each particular Church is measured by the missionary vocations it produces.

Jesus says: "I lay down my life [for my sheep]" (Jn 10: 17). To my dear brothers in the priesthood, I say: take these words to heart and let them become the inspiration of your whole priestly existence! Trust in the power of Christ’s love! By making a free gift of yourselves to the Church you will be strengthened in that pastoral charity which enables you to remain faithful to your charge, fruitful in your ministry and ready to render an account of your service on the last day. Only thus will you become what you are called to be: servants of communion, ready to stand by your flock at all times, ready to face difficulties and dangers for their sakes, completely devoted to the building up of the Body of Christ in love and unity.

5. The Good Shepherd, who knows and loves every member of his flock, is also in your midst in the person of all those Christians who devote themselves to serving the needs of their brothers and sisters. Here, in the first place, let us give thanks for the great role which your catechists have had – and still have – in the growth of the Church in Uganda. Their fidelity to Christ often led them to follow in the footsteps of St Charles Lwanga and the other martyrs whose sacrifice consecrated the beginnings of the Church’s life in your country. Because Christ’s love takes root and is expressed in a special way in the experience of families, I encourage Christian parents in their noble vocation to be channels of God’s love for each other and for their children. The family is the cradle in which each new generation comes to know God’s love through the faithful love of fathers and mothers, united before the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I add a word of encouragement to the young people who are such an important part of your communities and who represent the future of your country. You too are called to be witnesses to the love of the Good Shepherd: not only in your families and among your friends, but also and especially in your desire to search for the lost sheep, to come to the help of the poor and the outcast. Christ is calling you, with all the generosity and joy of your youth, to be messengers of his love and to reject the selfishness which spreads only unhappiness, hatred and violence.

Among those who have followed the Good Shepherd by laying down their lives for the sheep, I wish also to thank the many men and women Religious who have devoted themselves to serving the Ugandan people. Through their witness, Christ’s special love is made known and made effective in giving people a deeper sense of their own dignity as God’s children. So too the doctors, nurses and health care assistants who in a very real way help to "bandage the wounded and make the weak strong" (cf Ez 34: 16). Here in Gulu I cannot fail to mention the dedicated work of the staff of St Mary’s Hospital. What more impressive witness can be given to our Christian belief in the dignity of each human person, than in the concern for the poor, for the sick, and for those who are dying? I commend you also for your generosity in welcoming the great number of refugees from the Sudan. Your sacrifices on behalf of these your brothers and sisters will be amply rewarded by the One who himself was once an exile, and who says to his faithful followers: "I was a stranger and you made me welcome" (Mt 25: 35). We know that Christ had a special love for the sick and often reached out to touch and heal them. And so I address a word to all the sick, especially those suffering from AIDS. The Good Shepherd loves each of you! You have a special place in the Church, and you can share actively in her mission by offering your sufferings and prayers in union with Christ, for the needs of the flock, and for the unity and peace of the Lord’s flock.

6. Christ has conquered death! He is the Lord of life, who says: "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid" (Jn 14: 27). Even though we walk through the valley of darkness, we fear no evil, for he is there: with his crook and his staff he gives us comfort (cf Ps 24(23): 4). Christ knows the sufferings which Uganda has had to endure! He knows the price you have paid for years of war and unrest! He knows the price you and your children have paid in living with fear and uncertainty! But he repeats: "Be brave: I have conquered the world" (Jn 16: 33). Jesus has paid the price in order to ransom you from the power of fear and violence: he has redeemed you by his Blood! See, he is calling you to be his messengers! He is calling you to build up where others have torn down, to be heralds of hope in the face of cynicism and despair, heralds of love in the face of violence of every kind. Today, in Uganda, in Gulu, I appeal to all of you: be messengers of Christ, the Good Shepherd! Let all people see how you love one another, how you cooperate with one another, overcoming divisions in charity and seeking to serve all people, seeing in them the children of God, your brothers, your sisters. For the sake of your children, for the sake of the future God holds in store for Africa, you must be messengers of the light which casts out the darkness. You must overcome the culture of death by building a civilization of love.

7. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, says: "there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock and one shepherd" (Jn 10: 16). These are the words Jesus spoke to those who listened to him in the land of Palestine. Today he says the same thing to us, here in Gulu. Jesus wishes to draw all people to himself. Out of love for the Father, Jesus gave his own life for the salvation of the world. He constantly looks after the people redeemed at the price of his Blood. He fills them with the love which gives salvation. And he looks forward to that final time, when he will give every man and woman back to the Father, so that God will be "all in all" (1Cor 15: 28).

Lokristo me Uganda, Lakwat maber tye kwedwu. Uwek en kutel wun iyo metir. Amen.
(Christians of Uganda! Christ, the Good Shepherd, is with you! Let him guide you on the right path! Amen.)"

Blessed John Paul II's Address to Young People
at a Meeting in Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala, Saturday, 6 February 1993 - in English & Italian

Blessed be God who gives joy to our youth! (cf Ps 42 (41):4)

"Dear Young People of Uganda,
1. How happy I am to meet you! In your joyful enthusiasm and love I see reflected the light of Christ. Tonight you are sharing your youth with the Pope and make him young again! Here in Nakivubo Stadium, through Christ, the Light shining in the darkness (cf Jn 1:5), we are united as friends (cf Mt 18:20). I give back to each one of you – and all the youth of Uganda – that same love of Christ which overwhelms us (cf 2 Cor. 5:14) and which you have shown to me. Let us always love one another, "for love is of God" (1 Jn 4:7). Your short plays have honestly and creatively described the struggles facing young Ugandans today. I share your sadness and frustration at the works of darkness that surround you (cf Eph. 5:11). Despite your many trials – of students lacking family support and future opportunities, of workers facing unemployment and economic hardship, of young people from the rural areas who are often exploited and without services, of those who are suffering from AIDS – you are not overcome by discouragement. Darkness has not extinguished your light. I know that in your hearts you feel pain when you see the apparent triumph of injustice, corruption and violence. As your father and your friend, the Pope understands how difficult it can be to keep the light of hope burning in your hearts.

2. But, you may ask, what can we do to guarantee that the darkness of evil will not defeat the light of goodness in our world? The Church has only one answer, ever ancient and ever new. Open your hearts and your minds to Jesus Christ. He is your brother, who is always faithful. He is your Redeemer, who died and rose for you. He is your Lord, who leads you to glory. With Christ, the "Light of the world" (Jn 8:12), you can conquer the darkness of sin which casts its shadow over this land of the sun. With Christ, the Saviour of the world, you will be victorious (Jn 16:33). Christ is standing at the door of your heart (cf Rev. 3:20). He wants to enter there and share with you the flame of his sacrificial love. But if you are to open the door so that Christ can shine on you (cf Eph. 5:14), you must first hear him knocking. This means that every day you must escape from the turmoil of noise and confusion and, for a few minutes, be silent and calm. "Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray!", St James tells us (James 5:13). Even more than speaking, prayer is listening. The Father tells us: "This is my beloved Son, listen to him" (Mk 9:7). Through prayer you will be enlightened, refreshed and strengthened for life’s journey. When you are praying, some of you will hear the Lord inviting you to follow him as a priest or Religious. If you hear his gentle voice calling you, do not be afraid! Say with enthusiasm: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening" (1 Sam 3:9). Rely on God’s strength (cf Phil 4:13) and believe that the love of Jesus will sustain you.

3. Because you are baptized, the light of day is already shining in your hearts. You have been called from darkness into God’s marvellous light (cf 1 Pt 2:9). You are "children of the light" (Jn 12:36). In his Letter to the Ephesians, St Paul reminds Christians that they must lead lives worthy of God’s call (cf Eph 4:1). "You must live like people who belong to the light." In your families, communities and nation the light of Christ has already shone brilliantly – in the heroism of your martyrs, in the vitality of your noble traditions, in the charity of the believers. They have passed this shining torch of evangelical love to you – the generation of Uganda’s tomorrow, the hope of the Church’s future! God invites you – each and every one of you – to walk in the light as a companion of Christ (cf 1 Jn 1:7). The Prince of this world, however, often tries to extinguish your light. We have heard the sober words of St John: "Every one who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light" (Jn 3:20). Your songs and plays tell me that you do not want to stumble and fall. Like young people everywhere you yearn to walk in the light. But how can you shine "like stars lighting up the sky" (cf Phil. 2:15)? Uganda needs a well–prepared generation of young people. You must prepare for future responsibilities through your dedication to study, your love of chastity and your solidarity in community.

4. You are convinced, I know, that a sound education is necessary both for your personal maturity and for your Nation’s development. Yet you have told me that remaining in school is often very difficult and that you are tempted to give up. You ask: What is the use of so much effort? From my own experience of studying during the time of war in my land I can assure you schooling is one of the main paths leading us out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of truth. To seek, discover and rejoice in the truth are among life’s most thrilling adventures. Education frees you, so that you can become a fully–integrated man or woman. Remaining in school requires perseverance and patience; it requires self–denial and discipline. Above all, it calls for courage! Do not give in to defeatism and discouragement. The truth alone can make you free (cf Jn 8:32), so pursue it fearlessly. Christ calls you to cure the blindness of ignorance with the light of truth. May the lamp of learning radiate in every corner of the "Pearl of Africa’s Crown!" In a few years, my dear friends, you will be the men and women of the Third Millennium. Uganda and the Church are counting on the harvest of your talents (cf Mt 25:14-30)!

5. Secondly, most of you will walk the path of life in marriage. This too requires a kind of education. You need to equip yourselves for the magnificent commitment of marriage and founding a family – the most important unit of the Christian community. As young Christians, you must carefully prepare to become good spouses and good parents with families of your own. Essential to preparing for marriage is your vocation to chastity. I know that young people reject hypocrisy. You want to be honest with yourselves and others. A chaste person is honest. When God created us he gave us more than one way to "speak" to each other. Besides expressing ourselves through speech, we express ourselves through our bodies. Gestures are like "words" that tell who we are. Sexual actions are "words" that reveal our hearts. The Lord wants us to use our sexuality according to his plan. He expects us to "speak" truthfully. Honest sexual "language" requires a commitment to lifelong fidelity. To give your body to another person symbolizes the total gift of yourself to that person. But if you are not married, you are admitting that you might change your mind in the future. Total self–giving would then be absent. Without the bond of marriage, sexual relations are a lie. And for Christians, marriage means sacramental marriage. Chastity – which means respecting the dignity of others because our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (cf 1 Cor. 6:19) - leads you to grow in love for others and for God. It prepares you to make the "sincere gift of self" (cf Gaudium et Spes, 48) that is the basis of Christian marriage. More important, it teaches you to learn to love as Christ loves, laying down his life for others (cf Jn 15:13). Do not be deceived by the empty words of those who ridicule chastity or your capacity for self–control. The strength of your future married love depends on the strength of your present commitment to learning true love, a chastity which includes refraining from all sexual relations outside of marriage. The sexual restraint of chastity is the only safe and virtuous way to put an end to the tragic plague of AIDS which has claimed so many young victims. Helped by God’s grace in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, "be strong and of good courage" (Deut 31:6). The Pope urges you to commit yourselves to this spiritual revolution of purity of body and heart. Let Christ’s redemption bear fruit in you! The contemporary world needs this kind of revolution!

6. Thirdly, as you grow into the fullness of Christ (cf Eph. 4:13), clothed with the "armour of light" (Rom 13:12), you must continue to meet challenges presented by violence, racial discrimination, unemployment, poverty and injustice – all the terrifying darkness of sin. Do not flee from your social responsibilities by substituting passing pleasures for lasting commitment to your brothers and sisters. Make your voice for truth and justice be heard. Do not be afraid! Keep up your courageous questioning and searching for "whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just and whatever is pure" (Phil 4:8). Claim your right to participate in deciding your political, social and economic destiny (cf Redemptor Hominis, 17). Study carefully the Church’s rich tradition of social doctrine. It is the master resource for building a society where justice, solidarity and peace will thrive. The Lord Jesus challenges you this evening. He asks you to lend him your hands and your feet, your hearts and your minds, so that – through you! – he may set the downtrodden free (cf Lk. 4:18). With Christ, I ask you to replace selfishness with solidarity. Solidarity is the opposite of escapism, laziness and loving only those who love you (cf Mt. 5:46)! Solidarity demands that you work with others and for others without exception. I know that young people want to work together in love. That is the key to human liberation! Build a chain of solidarity – of cooperation in charity – that will extend from your families to include your school, your work place, your towns and your nation. If you live solidarity, justice will flourish (cf Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 39-40).

7. My dear young friends: Because you have been baptized into Christ’s Death and Resurrection and inflamed by his Spirit at Confirmation, you have the power to dispel the dark shadows of pessimism and selfishness. As the new Millennium draws near, "God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity" (Redemptoris Missio, 86). And he is relying on you to be the messengers of this hope throughout Uganda! Christ knows what is in your heart – and he loves you. His gaze of love has enlightened each one of you (cf Jn 1:9). I thank the young people of Uganda for being children of the light and of the day (cf Thess. 5:5). In your light I see the light of Christ! Now you must share that same light with your brothers and sisters!

Your energy and enthusiasm for the Gospel are pledges of confidence for the Church’s future in Uganda and Africa. As you take up responsibility for the coming century, may the word of God be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (cf Ps 119 (118):195)! With you – and all Ugandan youth – I pray that the Virgin Mary, the Morning Star who bore the Sun of Justice (cf Mal. 4:2), will fill you with the love of Christ. With your lamps burning for all to see, go out to meet the Lord of the Day! God bless you all. But he will look upon these young people with loving kindness and hear their prayers so that they may always keep their hearts and minds open to Christ our life."