Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We bring you special greetings from the Catholic bishops of Uganda, who during their plenary meeting in November 2021, asked me to convey to you our message of peace that comes with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin by thanking God for giving us, through his own gratuitous love, yet another chance to celebrate Christmas. He has done this to us amidst the uncertainties that characterized the year 2021. Many of you went through and are still experiencing difficult situations caused by COVID-19; such as, loss of employment and other livelihoods, extreme poverty, death of dear ones, and violence of different forms. Alas! Do not lose hope, for Christ was born and took our burdens upon himself. In other words, the birth of Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas, is a source of hope for the afflicted and for those who hunger and thirst for God. In the Gospel according to St Luke, Jesus presents himself as He who came to liberate humankind from injustice and pain. He reads from the scroll of prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk 4:18-19).
My brothers and sisters, children of God, we celebrate this Christmas without a number of our bishops, clergy, religious and laity, who Christ has called to himself. We ask you to pray for them and their families. In a special way, pray for the repose of the souls of the two members of the Conference; namely, the later Cyprian K. Lwanga who was Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese and John Baptist Kaggwa, Emeritus Bishop of Masaka Diocese. May the good Lord reward them for their service to God and humanity and comfort their families.
Christmas is an important event in our Christian faith. It is a moment when God encountered humankind and humankind encountered God in the most concrete way, a moment when “God is with us” (Emmanuel) [Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:23]. In other words, it is when God assumed our human condition in order to elevate us to full sons and daughters of God (Eph. 1:5; Rom 8:15; Gal 3:26). He was like us in all things but sin (Heb 4:15).
Christ came to a fallen world to repair and transform it by his living Word and his own life which he surrendered for our sake on the cross (Rom 4:25). He did this while we were still sinners so that we may be saved and that he may be an example for us to follow (Rom 5:6). Therefore, the vocation of every human being, especially a Christian, is to become Christ-like, who “… though he is God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself , becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8). This is the call to holiness, which demands of us to live by the dictates of the Holy Spirit. St Paul tells us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are manifested in our lives as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23), as opposed to the works of the flesh which are “immorality, impunity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts or fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like” (Gal 5:19-22).
Therefore, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas we must take time and reflect on how far we have allowed the Holy Spirit to guide us individually, and as a country in all dimensions. We are concerned that many happenings in our families, communities and society today are a departure from what God expects of us. We particularly wish to address ourselves to the following:
1. Disregard for Human Life:
We have continued to witness wanton loss of life due to criminality (robberies, terrorism, mob injustice, and rivalries), inadequate health care, and other ills. We, therefore, appeal to all persons to respect life, for life is a gift from God.
2. Discord in Families:
Since the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, we have witnessed an increase in domestic violence. We call upon parents and children to love, care, respect, forgive and listen to one another. This is what brings harmony and peace in the family and it is what God desires of us (Ephesians 5:21-33; 6:1-4). Conflicts are inevitable in any community. Rather we must learn to live with and resolve them in a mature and responsible manner. As St. Paul said, we must be guided by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. As members of the Catholic Church, in Uganda, we have resolved to step up our efforts to minister to families through our various outreach pastoral programmes on family life, counseling, and daily homilies.
3. Teenage Pregnancies:
Since the closure of schools almost two years ago, thousands of children have gotten pregnant or are married, meaning that some of them will miss the opportunity to continue with formal education. We condemn the people responsible for abuse of children and call upon parents and guardians of these children not to abandon them but rather to support and guide them in this difficult situation.
4. Health care
We note that over the years, health care has become wider in scope and increased in complexity. This has, therefore, demanded more skilled and well-motivated human resource, and better equipment and infrastructure. We appreciate efforts by Government to improve the situation, although more needs to be done. On our part, we will continue to complement these efforts by providing health services through our different health facilities.
5. The Situation of Refugees
We note with concern conflicts in our region which, no doubt, have contributed to steady flow of refugees into Uganda. Although Government of Uganda has done well in welcoming refugees through an open-door policy, we call upon leaders in the region to find lasting solution to the armed violence in the region.
6. The Environment
The Catholic Church is aware of the dangers that the entire world is facing from climate change. Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si (Praise be to you) calls upon all of us to take good care of mother earth. As members of the Catholic Church, we have undertaken several measures to mitigate the effects of climate change; such as, tree planting, and promoting solar energy and energy saving stoves.
My brothers and sisters, as I conclude I once again invite you to live the Christmas spirit and allow Christ to dwell in your hearts, families and society as a whole. I also take this opportunity to urge you all to participate in the preparations of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which will take place in October 2023 in Rome, Italy. The process was launched on 17th October 2021 in each country, including Uganda. The Holy Father has chosen for this Synod the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”.
Permit me to use this opportunity to welcome our newly appointed Ordinaries in the course of the year; His Grace Paul Ssemogerere (Archbishop of Kampala) and His Lordship Raphael p’Mwony Wokorach (Bishop of Nebbi Catholic Diocese)
I wish you a Blessed Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year 2022.
On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Uganda,
Rt. Rev. Joseph Antony Zziwa,
Chairman, Uganda Episcopal Conference and
Bishop of Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese.