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Fr Tom O'Connor writes


Fr Tom O'Connor with Cardinal Wamala.

Remembering our Uganda Mission


The recent scandal in the disappearance of four million Euro in Irish aid to Uganda saddened everyone.  The government in Kampala and even the President himself reacted with well rehearsed outrage and some staff in the prime minister’s office was arrested. The Irish government’s reaction was to stop all aid to Uganda as the President there promised to find and pay back the lost funds. The disgust among the Irish taxpayers is matched only by the severe loss to the poor and the sick in Uganda.


I find no joy in sharing my reaction: more of the same! Corruption is endemic in Uganda and the local expression out there says it all: ‘a fish rots first in the head’. So much so that some funding agencies in Ireland and elsewhere prefer to give aid directly to NGOs or to missionaries for specific projects (hospitals, care centres, schools, roads) in aid of the sick and the poor.


Coming up as we are to the Holy Season, I love to recall the differences between here and there in the celebration of Christmas. First of all, very few people in Uganda have ever seen snow and I found it particularly difficult to explain or describe snow and more difficult still when it comes to hailstones. That rules out Santa and there is no tradition of Christmas cards and less still gift-giving among people hidebound in poverty and destitution. But one thing leaves an indelible memory: having a new born baby and it’s mother in a life-size crib during the midnight Mass in the hospital chapel. In Uganda when a baby is born before noon it is customary for mother and baby to return home that same day. That means to have a baby for the crib we have to have one born that afternoon or evening or night. While I was there we were always lucky though one year we had to avail of a Moslem mother and her baby. The young mother was quite happy to take part though she chose not to sit in the crib but in the front seat only feet away from her treasure.


Year after year the impact of mother and baby in the crib was most impressive giving life and zest to the entire liturgy which included spontaneous clapping and ululating. Time and again during the two hour ceremony the baby would wake up and scream its cry at being born and needing a feed. Mothers, whether in Ireland, Bethlehem or Uganda know well how to answer that call and in Uganda a healthy breast feed, there and then, solved the problem for our darling in the crib whether the celebrant is at the moment of consecration or not. Indeed the crying gave further meaning to the crib as our baby joined Baby Jesus in what babies do best. My own thought might have been that I was in the presence of a Ugandan Camillian in the making! After all, whoever we are and whether in Ireland or Uganda, all vocations begin somehow with a similar baby cry in the mystery deep in the hearts of you and me.


 I miss the perfect climate and those wonderful Ugandan people, sick and dying though they may have been. Those sick and dying whom we cared for as Camillians will not be receiving cards or gifts this Christmas. They are long since in Heaven; the HIV/AIDS pandemic made sure of that. Indeed the best stories of Camillians and of our ministry worldwide are told only in Heaven. It is comforting to note that the Bethlehem Baby has provided what He promised as the final solution : “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11;28). To us Camillians, as to all who look after the sick in their neighbourhood or wherever, the same Bethlehem Baby declares: “Come you blessed of my Father … I tell you solemnly in so far as you did this to the least of these sisters and brothers of mine you did it to me.” (Matt 25; 40)

Tom O’Connor, O.S.Cam. (Camillian missionary)



our Ugandan Missionalt