By Jacinta W. Odongo – Kampala, Uganda
Last month, all eyes were on Uganda as the country hosted the 18th Plenary Assembly and Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) from July 20-29, 2019.
SECAM is a fruit of the efforts of African Bishops who during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) resolved to establish a continental structure to unite the Church in Africa and promote collaboration in pastoral ministry. The Association was officially launched in July 1969 at Lubaga Cathedral during the visit of Pope Saint Paul VI to Uganda.
Celebrating 50 years of SECAM in Kampala was a historical moment for Uganda; a country recognized by the Universal Church as the land of Martyrs with 24 Catholics and 23 from the Church of Uganda.
During SECAM celebrations, over 300 delegates from Africa, Madagascar, Europe, America, Asia and beyond thronged Uganda including 9 cardinals, 55 archbishops, 106 bishops, about 60 priests as well as religious men, women and youth, representatives of various partners and selected institutions among others. Pope Francis was also represented by a delegate from the Vatican.
In a country of over 10 million Catholic faithful, hosting such a high profile event that brought together the topmost Church officials in the Catholic Church in Africa was a great honour.These delegates spent about nine days in the country not just touring around, but discussing pertinent issues that directly affect African nations at large. During the Plenary Assembly from July 22-27, the delegates tackled key issues on evangelization, human development, justice, democracy, peace, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue among others and came up with some pastoral strategies and resolutions to address these challenges.
On July 21, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda attended the Opening Mass at Lubaga Cathedral. This was not only a great opportunity for him to meet the Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops from across the continent, but also to learn more about the Church. He also addressed issues of human development, peace, unity, love and reconciliation among other issues that are affecting the African continent. The President stressed the need for the Church in Africa to become a force to integral human development by promoting the social and economic welfare of their people.
“In welfare, Africans are still lagging behind. And this welfare is the welfare of your parishioners, of your people whom you lead spiritually and whom some of us lead in temporal matters,” he said adding that “Now that is where there is a challenge for the Africans, the leaders: spiritual and temporal,” President Museveni told the Church leaders. He urged the Church leaders to tackle the issue of low economic productivity when they go back to their respective countries as it’s a major issue that is affecting many African families.
The theme chosen for the 18th plenary was: “Church, Family of God in Africa, Celebrate your Jubilee! Proclaim, Meet and Welcome Christ your Saviour.” This theme stresses the importance of the family, which constitute the domestic Church and the basic foundation upon which every society is built.
Therefore, hosting SECAM in Uganda gave a signal to African families and the rest of society on the importance of developing deeper human and spiritual development which includes the joy of loving others, the beauty of marriage that translates into a community of love and the need for encouraging one another to improve their social and economic welfare.
Another great impact of hosting SECAM in Uganda was the commissioning of Munyonyo Martyrs’ Shrine into a Minor Basilica on July 29. Just a few days before SECAM Golden Jubilee celebrations commenced, Pope Francis approved an application that was presented by the Archbishop of Kampala, Most Rev. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga to elevate Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine to the status of minor Basilica.
His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Vatican, officially commissioned Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine Minor Basilica during his visit to Uganda to attend the SECAM golden jubilee celebrations. Over 30 bishops and H.E Edward Sekandi the Vice President of Uganda were also in attendance during this commissioning ceremony.
A Basilica is the highest rank a Church can attain in the Catholic Church. The status is usually given to churches because of their antiquity, historical value, architectural worth and significance as centres of worship. Thus, following the commissioning, Munyonyo is now the third Basilica in Uganda and 23rd in Africa. Besides, Uganda is currently the only country in Africa with three minor basilicas. Apart from Munyonyo, the country hosts Uganda Martyrs Minor Basilica in Namugongo and the Minor Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lodonga, Yumbe District under the Arua Diocese. Perhaps without hosting SECAM celebrations this dream couldn’t have come true.
Another impact of SECAM was the passing a motion by the parliament of Uganda to honour Pope Saint Paul VI. The SECAM delegates got an opportunity to observe these proceedings in parliament from the distinguished guests’ gallery during their tour of parliament on July 24.
The touristic potential of hosting SECAM in Uganda cannot also be underrated. Uganda is well known for its hospitality and natural beauty hence the name ‘Pearl of Africa’. It’s also known for its Martyrs who were executed on the orders of the Kabaka (King) of Buganda Kingdom between 1885 and 1887, for refusing to denounce their Christian faith.
The Martyrs Day celebration has become Uganda’s biggest event for the two denominations (Catholic and Anglican) and Africa’s largest pilgrimage. Millions of pilgrims from across the world usually come to Uganda every June 3 to commemorate the Uganda Martyrs that were beatified in 1920 and canonized into Sainthood in 1964. Thus, hosting SECAM was another addition to Uganda’s faith-based Tourism.
The delegates did not only attend the SECAM events but also visited places of touristic interest around Kampala Wednesday afternoon on July 24, which included: Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine, Mapeera Bakateyamba Home in Nalukolongo, Nabulaggala Parish where the relics of first Missionaries to Uganda are laid, Namugongo Martyrs Shrine and the Parliament of Uganda.
Touring these places was a blessing for Uganda since most of these delegates were impressed with what they saw at these sites and the majority left Uganda with an intention of organizing pilgrimages to Uganda in future. Therefore, had SECAM not marked its 50th anniversary in Uganda this wouldn’t be possible.
The Opening and Closing Masses that were held on July 21 and July 28 respectively as well as the Daily Masses offered during the Plenary Assembly provided another chance to advertise Uganda’s sacred tourism. The guests noticed the unique and diverse Ugandan cultures since the liturgy was conducted in various languages.