Kampala, Uganda, the country’s capitol and largest city, sits on a series of beautiful hills that at one time housed the British colonial settlement, and before that, the antelope hunting reserve of its king. Kampala joined Entebbe in 1938 as the first two Ugandan cities to use electric power, and it is a stop on the Uganda Railway. Today, compared to many of the cities of that region, Kampala is modernized, richly diverse, and a center of culture.
Between 1969 and 1972, Maltese and Indian Jesuits entered Uganda with a focus on training clergy, and in 1986, Midwest Jesuits came to accompany the vulnerable, especially refugees, who for decades had entered the country from war-torn neighbors throughout Africa. The initial work also included areas such as spiritual direction, youth ministry, and recovery work. The Ugandan Jesuits’ early partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)contracted with the Jesuits to meaningfully assist refugees, particularly as it relates to providing psychosocial support and education for refugee children. Worldwide, the Jesuits have supported diasporic peoples through their own organization, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). JRS operates in 56 countries and is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future.
This triad of people of God—the Jesuits, UNHCR, and JRS (along with other notable organizations)—has formed a partnership that has become a model for other regions of the world. Today, Uganda hosts more than 1.4million refugees, making it the largest refugee host country in Africa, and Kampala hosts about half of them. Recently the displaced come from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Midwest Jesuits have been a close partner with the Jesuits of Eastern Africa for over 30 years for several reasons. The need is great and many of our Jesuits’ spirits are moved to accompany their brothers and sisters of eastern Africa. Plus, the Midwest Province is “twinned” with the Eastern Africa Province, meaning there is a formal relationship between the two blessed by the Superior General of the Society. It is akin to “sharing parishes” in the United States. The relationship and the trust it rests upon allows Midwest Jesuits to be sent to ministries in this region and to grow among the people from whom there is so much to learn.
The Midwest Jesuits hope to raise funds for a unique need in Uganda. Xavier House, where the local Jesuits used to live, is located in Nsambya, in the heart of the city of Kampala, and has organically become a center for the integration of refugee services delivered by the said organizations. Within their Jesuit residence you could hear toddlers chanting the alphabet, the buzz of saws as adults learned livelihood skills such as carpentry, and the many languages of the people who sought guidance in rebuilding their lives.
As the need grew with the South Sudanese war, the priests selflessly turned over the entire Xavier House to JRS, who made the building their Ugandan headquarters. The building is now a hub of activity for refugee services, especially psychosocial support, livelihoods, emergency assistance, and education, and the center hosts the purposeful collaboration between many worthy organizations. The Jesuits there are thrilled to see that the highest and best use of this facility has materialized. Their gift, however, has made them essentially “homeless,” and the province has not been able to assign additional Jesuits there due to this lack of housing. A plot of land has been identified adjacent to the JRS compound (their old community), plans for a more modest structure have been laid, and the Jesuits hope to build a new residence there, which will also function as a “transit house” for those traveling to other distant cities in Uganda such as Gulu. The total cost of the structure and its furnishings is estimated to be $298,000. While the other Midwest Province’s projects and needs continue, this important project will be at the forefront of our efforts. If you have an interest in supporting this need, please contact Ann Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you in advance, or as our friends in Uganda would say, webale!