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Getting to know the Jesuits in Uganda

By Vision Reporter

Added 15th October 2015 01:20 PM

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope after about 500 years since the society was formed.

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The Jesuit compound in Nsambya. Photos/ Norman Katende

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope after about 500 years since the society was formed.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope after about 500 years since the society was formed. Jacquiline Emodek set out to find where the Jesuits were in Uganda     
 
After a ride on the dusty Kirombe zone road in Nsambya, we finally arrive at Jesuit Refugees Service (JRS).

I am welcomed by a security guard who is a native of Burundi. He is a refugee here as a result of the political turmoil in his country.

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The centre receives about 400 refugees daily mostly from Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

They are taught English and also equipped with such skills as hairdressing for the women and mechanics for the men.

This centre is home to the Jesuit community in Kampala. The other one is in Gulu.

Who are the Jesuits?
Fr. Edmund Mallya, a Jesuit priest born in Tanzania, has been in Uganda for 20 years. He explains that the Jesuit community, also known as the Society of Jesus, is a congregation within the Catholic Church.

"The Jesuits were founded in 1522 by St. Ignatius of Loyola whose hopes of becoming a soldier were shattered after a cannon ball destroyed his leg," he told me.

"During his recovery he indulged in Christian literature which convinced him to become a soldier of Christ."

After his graduate studies in Paris, Loyola, together with about six companions, went to Rome and requested to work for Pope Paul III.

"This is where our relationship with the pope stems. We are totally under the pope because we were founded by him," Mallya explains.

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Handmade crafts by refugees who attend Jesuit classes

Working for the pope
In reference to Ignatius' history as a soldier, the Jesuits are referred to as "God's soldiers" or the company". This is coupled with the fact that they are willing to take orders from the Pope wherever they are and are trained to withstand all conditions.

Unlike Diocesan priests, Jesuits take vows of obedience, poverty and chastity to the congregation including a special vow of obedience to the pope.

"We do not own anything of our own and even if I work and earn an income, it belongs to the congregation. We do not get married either because we are married to our congregation," Mallya goes on.

Pope Francis' humility has stood out on several occasions including the choice of silver instead of gold for his piscatorial ring and keeping the same pectoral cross he had while he was cardinal.

Jesuits argue that when one does not own property he becomes free for God and also free to help others.

When Loyola and his friends approached the pope he received a lifetime appointment as a General. They started their mission in 1540 when Islam was quickly spreading across the Mediterranean region.

The Jesuits first focused on conversion of Muslims and then went on to counteract the spread of Protestantism before implementing the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church.

Global presence
Presently there are about 13,000 Jesuits globally. Until five years ago, this was the largest congregation of religious men. However today, the Salesians of Don Bosco a Roman Catholic religious institute founded to help poor children, have taken over.

"The numbers are going down now because people are growing old and yet few people are joining the society," Mallya says.

In Uganda, there are 15 Jesuits with the majority in Gulu at the Ocer Champion College and five in Kampala.

Across the six continents, they are grouped in provincials which are led by a provincial superior. Pope Francis was Argentina's provincial superior from 1973 to 1979.

The Eastern Africa region provincial comprises South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda with its headquarters situated in Nairobi. They have one parish in Nairobi and three in Tanzania. Mallya says that they hope to secure an audience with the Archbishop of Kampala so as to get a parish in Kampala.

There are 127 Jesuits in East Africa and their provincial superior is Joseph Afulo Odour.
 "One of his roles is posting Jesuits in East Africa; like now he sent me to Gulu last year and this year he posted me to Kampala," Mallya confides.

Odour answers to head of the Jesuit community in the world who is Superior General, Fr. Nicholas Adolf. His title is based on their military background.
The society Headquarters are called General Curia and are located in Rome.

Jesuits in education
Jesuits are also known for their practicability and their role as educators, which is rooted in their motto; For the greater glory of God. Their work is mostly in secondary and University education.

Currently there are approximately 189 Jesuit Institutions of Higher learning in the world; 28 of these are in the United States of America while the rest are distributed in the various countries. Eastern Africa does not have any.

However there are High schools, namely; Loyola High School in Dar es Salaam, Ocer Champions College in Uganda and St. Peter Clever in Dodoma.

To become a Jesuit
Mallya says his job here is to recruit Jesuits by talking to catholic students in different universities. He leaves flyers and his contact details behind. He says they don't recruit from seminaries.

The students then write to him. On this specific day, Mallya received a letter from Moses Wandera who is concluding his bachelor's degree at Makerere University Business School. Wandera also sent his certificates and diploma.

"Our level of education is one of the things that differentiate us from other catholic priests. You really need to be a person capable of studying," Mallya notes.

Jesuits are free thinkers who work as priests, teachers, lawyers, counselors because they believe in the vision of their founder which seeks to "find God in all things."

"God is found in every area of our lives including nuclear physics," Mallya notes.

Pope Francis studied chemistry and briefly worked as a chemistry technician. He also began work on a doctoral degree at Sankt Georgen Graduate School of philosophy and Theology in Germany. Likewise, Mallya is a professional counselor with a degree and masters in theology. He has also worked as a chaplain in Nairobi.

Formation process
The recruitment process takes a minimum of one year.

"We need to talk to you and learn about one another, if we realize that you know about us then we take you on," Mallya says.

One also needs to be a good Catholic, young man who wants to dedicate his life to serving the church of God.

Why are they not known in Uganda?
Mallya explains that it could be because there are no clear identification centres
"We do not have institutions run by Jesuits," he says. "I hope that with the opening of Ocer Champion College which is Jesuit people will get interested in knowing more about the society.

He also says the society is not popular because it is mainly involved in refugee work which few Ugandans follow. Presently the society works with ministry of Internal affairs and the United Nations. It receives refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

They are offered assistance for a period of three months after which they are supposed to survive on their own.

Meaning of papal visit
"We have a lot of expectations because this pope is one of us," Mallya says. "The society hopes he will challenge us and the church in Uganda to help other people."

He also hopes that this message will not only be directed to the religious leaders but the people as well regardless of their religious sects.

"He has already told people that he does not want big cars or big things. So we hope he emphasizes this as well," Mallya notes.

As a Jesuit, Mallya says he would be honored if the Pope visited them. However, he knows, the possibility is low since their house in Kampala has not officially reopened.


 

Getting to know the Jesuits in Uganda

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