Dear brothers and sisters in Lira Diocese, Lira, 1 April 2018, Easter Sunday
This year Easter falls on the 1st of April, the day when some people like to tell somebody false news, and later on laugh at the one who has fallen into the trap. We call it “All Fools’ Day”. In spite of the coincidence, Easter it is not at all a joke or something invented. The unheard and humanly impossible news that Jesus, crucified and buried, rose from the dead is not a joke for Fool’s day. It is true. It is a fact, which has actually changed for good the history of the whole world, together with my personal life and the life of each one of us.
Easter is actually the proof that Life has defeated Death, good has conquered evil. This is what, as Christians, we know and believe. As I send you this message, wishing you and your families to be flooded and filled with the joy and the new life of Easter, I cannot hide or forget the fact that this is a time when around us, both in Lango and in Uganda at large, the contrary seems to be true: death and evil are apparently winning and defeating life and good.
In recent months a wave of violence has spread throughout the country, with people being kidnapped for money and eventually killed while in many of these cases the real culprits have never been found and taken to book, to the point that some people are now accusing the security forces of inefficiency or even complicity with the wrong doers, especially when big people are involved in such and other crimes like corruption and mismanagement of funds destined to improve the welfare of the citizens. The statistics published yesterday in one of the national newspapers are appalling. Allow me to quote some of them. In Uganda “the level of crime is now rated 64.7% and it is rising at a rate of 68.33% per month. The risk per month of being robbed at home is 68.33% and being robbed on the road 63.71%! The risk of losing a car to thieves is 58.33% and losing valuables from the car 74.11%. The safety of walking alone at night is a mere 26.6% and the possibility of encountering corruption is at 87.9%”. (End of quotation) There are also statistics concerning the number of people being kidnapped, but I think that – although a couple of figures seem to have incurred in typing mistakes – this is more than enough to prove the point of an increasing wave of criminality in our country. Of course, as with all statistics, this does not mean that the rate of criminality and insecurity is the same in all the towns and corners of Uganda. Yet there is no way of denying that this has become a serious problem, affecting the life of our people.
Now, Lira and Lango at large are not a happy island in our country. Violence, thefts and killings have made the life of our people, already plagued by rampant and unpunished corruption, high cost of commodities, favouritism in the administration of justice and distribution of services, even more difficult and insecure. People are angry and tired, and this leads them sometimes to react emotionally and fall into the same mistakes they are complaining about. During this very Holy Week, the lynching by an angry mob of a man accused of theft and murder, imprisoned and the following day found while trying to run away and abscond himself, is the latest example of this situation, whereby people, no longer trusting the security forces and the judiciary to be able to do their task and administer justice, take things in their hands. Thinking of “doing justice” they actually end up in committing murder. Now, how can we see Easter, the triumph of life and good in all these facts, in Lango and in Uganda as a whole? And why do I choose to talk of this disturbing and problematic issue in my Easter message?
Exactly because it is Easter, which reminds us that what we see happening today has already happened at the time of Jesus. Even then an angry crowd, provoked and excited by some of their leaders, shouted asking Pilate for the liberation of Barabbas, a criminal, and the crucifixion of an innocent, Jesus, who was insulted and derided up to Calvary, where he died on the cross for us. Apparently, even for Jesus three years of preaching the gospel of love, forgiveness and peace, sowing hope, helping people and giving his life for them ended up in the silence and darkness of a tomb on Good Friday. It has happened over two thousands year ago, and it is continually happening nowadays.
The injustice in front of our eyes, the corruption of which we are witnesses every day, especially the violence against children and innocent people, seem to be the clear proof that, beyond our good wishes and dreams for a better world, reality remains the same: evil has the upper hand and nothing really changes. It is then easy to get discouraged. Our attempts to do better, to change things, our very missionary commitment for evangelization risk to be seen as practically useless and doomed to fail. In the end, evil will prevail. You work and work…but nothing seems to change.
This applies also to us in the Church, as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Lira Diocese. Since my last message to you, on Christmas Day, a number of difficulties and even failures seem to support a pessimistic reading of our situation. Once again, like last year, the ecumenical Way of the Cross through the streets of Lira town, although marked by an impressive increase of participants, has been somehow a maimed one, because of the absence of our brothers from the Anglican Community. Invited, they answered that they are not yet quite ready to join us and our Orthodox brothers in this act of faith. Next year, maybe. This is clearly a step backwards in the difficult ecumenical journey that we have tried to walk together for over ten years! Also our own journey and program of renewal for the Golden Jubilee in its twofold spiritual and material dimensions and commitment seem to make one step ahead and one step backwards: poor response or coordination for the Jubilee week in some parishes, some delays and difficulties beyond our control but also lack of funds already pledged but never fulfilled have led to the present awkward situation whereby we could not yet do the ground breaking ceremony for the expansion of the cathedral, although this will soon happen after Easter. And then, above all, let us not forget that the ones responsible for many cases of violence, heft, murder, corruption and so on… are our brothers and sisters, Christians like us or even members of our own Church. In a moment of persecution and discouragement, the prophet Isaiah lamented to God: “I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing” (Is. 49:4).
After fifty years as a Diocese, are we, the Church-Family –of- God in Lango figthing a losing and doomed battle against evil? No, this is only a partial, sad but incomplete picture of the reality on the ground. Our emotional reactions and humanly legitimate feelings disturb our discernment and can only lead us to a superficial reading of our situation and history.
As Christians, when we contemplate the love of Jesus, crucified and risen for us, we are given through the gift of faith a different key and perspective with which to read and understand reality. We are then able to discover that death is not the last word of the God of life for his children. We understand that history is not a closed circle spinning repeatedly and forever around itself without an outlet, a way out. For us, the outlet is there. Our finishing line and final goal is the resurrection. It will only be fully accomplished at the end of times, but it is a process which has already started and is happening now, slowly, day by day, painfully as in the pangs of birth which blossoms in the joyful cry of a new life. This is the mystery that we have been celebrating and living with faith during the liturgy of this Easter triduum. This is also what is happening in our daily life, every time that in us or around us something new is coming to life. The challenge is to be able and to learn how to see it happening. This is actually what I would now like to invite you to do: to see and recognize the seeds of Easter, the germs of Resurrection, of the new life which the Lord is sowing in each one of us as well as in the life and journey of our parishes and chapels.
Last month, on March 4, I had the joy of opening the new parish of Orum, dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Peace. It is the nineteenth parish of our diocese and others will follow. Detached from the too vast parish of Aliwang numbering over 120 chapels, the new community is now starting its journey. The construction of a new and big parish church is likely to take still a long time, but for the time being people will repair and use the old chapel. Another example: in February, after years and years of unsuccessful attempts, unfulfilled promises and continuous delays, the place of the former NTC in Ngetta has finally been accredited by the National Council for Higher Education as fit to be a Campus of the Uganda Martyrs University. We shall start in August, and many of our people, especially the youth, will have at last an easier and more convenient access to university studies.
Allow me to add a smaller, down to earth example of how something new is possible, against all odds and difficulties. Last Saturday in Alito I witnessed the “graduation” of about 50 young men and women who have undergone a six month practical course in agribusiness. They are boys and girls 18 to 25 years old who could not complete their education mainly because of lack of money for their school fees or for some other reasons. I remember seeing them in October, at the beginning of the course, a group of “drop outs”, who seemed to have no future. Six months later I have found them self-confident, proud of what they have learned and eager to put it into practice, each one in the field he or she has chosen to work in: bee keeping, poultry, piggery, production of vegetables and so on. Smiling in front of their parents and the sub county authorities, they were conveying a simple and clear message: for us today a new life begins! Soon, this very month, another group of about 150 youth will start a new course hoping for a new possibility for their future.
Definitely, the message of Easter is much more and goes beyond the mere possibility of acquiring a new skill or achieving a better financial situation. Easter speaks to us about that unique and marvelous new life which God our Father, through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, gives to all of us his brothers, calling us to share in his own life, his holiness, love and joy. I do believe though, that – seen in a perspective of faith – even what happened in Orum, Ngetta and Alito are small signs that a new life is possible, that God gives us always the chance for a fresh start.
They are a reminder for me and for each one of us of the possibility and duty to re-start, rise up again, always. Easter calls us to believe that a new life is possible and to allow the transforming power of the resurrection of Jesus to work in our life, so that it may grow and become every day a little bit more new, beautiful and holy. Yes, holy. I am aware that holy and holiness in our society and time seem to be words no longer fashionable. Holiness is regarded by many as a very high and almost impossible goal to be achieved, reserved only to a few special and privileged individuals. Yet this is what the new life of Easter is all about. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose to raise us up together with him, sharing in the life of God the Father, the love of the Holy Spirit, as adoptive brothers and sisters of the Son of God who became one of us for this very purpose.
Tomorrow in his forthcoming Apostolic Exhortation on Holiness, Pope Francis himself will remind all of us in the Catholic Church that holiness is actually our common calling and vocation. For all of us: clergy, laity, men and women. I am convinced that a holy life of all the Christians in our country is the only true and lasting remedy which will be able to defeat the evil surrounding us, the corruption of our society and the culture of violence leading to so many killings. It is only leaving behind the darkness of our own sinful life that we shall be able to embrace the light of Easter and be the light and salt of our country, of our Lango sub region, making an important and positive difference and contribution to the real development and welfare of Uganda. For us in Lira diocese, as we celebrate our Golden Jubilee this is actually a must, the top priority of our celebration: a renewal of our own faith and love, expressed in a new and holier life, open to the others, reaching out to the poor. For this we need to renew our choices, in our daily life, where we live and work, in what we do, in the way we are. Are we ready and willing to do it?
Today we celebrate Easter, the gift of the Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of a new life offered and open to us. That Jesus is indeed risen is true, it is not a fake news. “This is the day that the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24), it is not All Fools’ Day. Yet we could become the worst fools of all by letting down and not embracing God’s gift, by not grabbing this unique and marvelous chance and opportunity of Easter and of our Golden Jubilee for us to start, with the saving and transforming power of His Resurrection, a new and holy life.
Let us then keep on working for a change of heart, starting from ourselves. Let us keep fighting against evil in all its ugly forms. Let us keep sowing seeds of unity, reconciliation and peace. We are going to do it with the awareness that we are not alone. The Risen Lord is with us, every day. With Him, love and life will prevail.
Trusting in the gracious presence and faithful love of God for all of us, His Church in Lira Diocese, I would like to end my message praying together with you, with some of the words of our prayer for the Golden Jubilee, asking God the Father, Jesus, the Risen Lord, and the Holy Spirit:
“Forgive our past and present weaknesses. Give us now the strength to rise up and proceed with a renewed heart as children of one family, with love and forgiveness for everybody. Amen.”
Dear brothers and sisters, may God bless you and give you and your families a Happy, True and Holy Easter of Resurrection!
Your brother and shepherd,
+ Joseph Franzelli
Bishop of Lira Diocese