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African bishop visits diocesan parish to meet the people

herrin kidsFor 14 years Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Herrin has been in relationship with the people of Uganda in many ways.

On Sept. 26, Bishop Paul Ssemogerere of the Diocese of Kasana-Luwero in Uganda, celebrated a liturgy at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel with pastor, Msgr. Kenneth Schaefer, school students and parishioners.

Bishop Paul wanted to thank the people of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel for the many years of support for the people of his diocese.

“I come to visit but also to thank you,” the bishop said. “I have seen the beauty of this country with its good roads, its trucks, the many different cars. This is a country of plenty, of peace, of security. We pray that God will continue to keep it that way.”

Msgr. Schaefer and a few parishioners had been planning to travel to Uganda in early October, but state department warnings about insecurity in the region caused them to change their plans.

The bishop’s prayer for safety resonated with those who wanted to travel to Africa.

The bishop continued with his homily, thanking the people of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

“Out of the richness and wealth of this country, you have been so generous to share with the people of my diocese and parishes. You have touched their lives,” the bishop said.

Bishop Paul quoted the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, part of verse 35 to the students: “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. You are collecting money so that some children can go to school and have lunch. You are bringing them food to eat. Thank you for sharing.”

The bishop told his young listeners about how families in Uganda get water to drink. “Many families walk many miles for water. With the money sent, we are able to drill wells and make bore holes for children to drink.”

The bishop told students he hoped he could get to heaven before they would. “I will give testament about you” to God.

He asked them to thank God for all they have: a beautiful country, plenty of food, clean water and their shoes.

To give people an idea of how the relationship between Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Ugandan diocese developed, Msgr. Schaefer explained.

“The connection between the Diocese of Kasana-Luwero and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel started 14 years ago. A young seminarian named Everist Kabagambe was studying at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago. For his internship he requested a parish in a rural diocese. The rector called then Father Ken Schaefer in Herrin and made the request.

“One part of the internship was a project. The project started with collecting aluminum cans and sending the proceeds to Nakascke Catholic parish in Wobulenzi, Uganda, Everist’s home parish. Motorcycles were bought for the priests and 35 bicycles for the catechists. Numerous projects were undertaken to modernize the rectory, improve the school and build several small chapels.

“Father Gerald Wamala followed and engaged the parish to help drill a well at St. Cyprian Primary School in Ngawa, Uganda, one of the most remote parishes in that diocese. More projects followed with classroom building in Nkulaze, repairing a health center in Mulajje, and improving the church and rectory of Our Lady of the Good Shepherd.

“These projects led to starting a lunch program at St. Bonaventure Primary School in Mulajje. Five years later 450 children receive a bowl of rice with goat meat for lunch every day. The school attendance has increased by 200 children since its inception. In the new partnership of parishes — the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit in Carterville has joined this project.

“In the meantime Steve and Tabitha Stone of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel adopted a young boy whose parents were both deceased who has five other siblings in Uganda. That was the beginning of the Benja Project which now supports Benja’s five brothers and sisters and has funded at least five more schools, beds for the health clinic and other projects in Kasana-Luwero diocese. The diocese has 300,00 Catholics, 200 primary schools and 17 parishes with three or four priests. Each of these parishes has between 20-30 sub-parishes, or missions, that can only be reached by motorcycle, walking or bicycle. Bishop Paul said he could open seven-ten more parishes if he had the resources.

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has also built a church at Kamwano, and the parish asked to name their new church Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Recently two dormitories for orphans have been completed at St. Bonaventure Primary School, a well has been dug in Mulajje, a parish kitchen has been built and continued improvement have been made to Our Lady of the Good Shepherd in Mulajje.

“Bishop Paul celebrated the weekend liturgies when he was in Herrin to thank the people of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the Catholic Church of the Holy Spirit in Carterville. He was amazed at how many projects have been carried out during these past 14 years. He promised his personal prayers for the people of southern Illinois and in return asked for our prayers and continued support,” Msgr. Schaefer said.

Story and photos by LIZ QUIRIN
Messenger editor

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