Sunday March 10 2013

Tribute to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

By Harold E. Acemah

On February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI retired gracefully and peacefully as head of the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in the world and according to tradition he was one of thesuccessors to St. Peter who is considered to be the first Pope.
Simon Peter was one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus Christ; the rock upon whom Jesus promised to build his church.

Anybody who has visited Vatican City and, in particular, St. Peter’s Basilica will marvel at the beauty, majesty and sheer size of the mega church which is the headquarters of the worldwide Catholic Church. The Vatican is also a state and most countries, including Uganda, have Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and by tradition they were men.

That ancient tradition was broken when Uganda appointed Ambassador Bernadette Olowo, a career diplomat, as our envoy to the Vatican in 1975. When her name was proposed as ambassador- designate, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not sure whether the Vatican would grant an agrement to enable her to proceed; to our surprise an agrement was granted and the first female ambassador to the Holy See in 900 years presented her credentials to Pope Paul VI on January 19, 1975. Pope Paul VI was the first reigning Pope to visit Africa in July 1969; he came to canonize the Uganda martyrs at Namugongo, an event which I shall always remember.

For one who has had the pleasure and privilege to visit and see the artistic and creative beauty of the Vatican and who appreciates the enormous spiritual and secular power a Pope wields, one can only marvel and wonder at how a person elected for life as Head of State and especially as spiritual Head of theCatholic Church can voluntarily leave what is easily the closest one can get to as heaven-on-earth. Nobody had, in fact, resigned from Papacy for 600 years!

Our power-hungry and power-driven African leaders must be at pains to comprehend how a man can voluntarily relinquish such enormous power and prestige after only eight years in office when he is entitled to serve until the LORD summons him to the eternal kingdom. Only a man of God who is a servant leader can do what Pope Benedict XVI did. To God be the glory.

Unlike his predecessor who made several visits to Africa, including Uganda, Pope Benedict XVI came to Africa only twice, but his love for Africa was as great as that of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. On October 25, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a gathering of Catholic Bishops of Africa at the Vatican. In his homily at the concluding Mass at the 2nd African Synod, the Pope delivered what I consider to be a prophetic message to all Africans and the world at large.

The message was appropriately titled: “Courage! Get on Your Feet, Continent of Africa”; it literally made me stand up for Jesus and for Africa. It is a message worth sharing with all men and women of goodwill.
“Here is a message of hope for Africa: We have just heard it from the Word of God. It is the message that the Lord of history does not tire of repeating to the oppressed and overwhelmed humanity of every age and land, from the time that he revealed to Moses his will for the Israelite slaves of Egypt: I have witnessed the affliction of my people. . . I have heard their cry. . . I know their suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them. .and lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey. .”

The Pope continues with a question. “What is this land?” His answer is in the form of another question:“Is it not perhaps the kingdom of reconciliation, justice and peace, to which the whole of mankind is called? God’s plan does not change. It is the same one that was prophesised by Jeremiah, in the magnificent oracles called the Book of Consolation”.

I believe that God’s plan for Uganda and indeed for Africa has not changed and will not change. God’s plan for Africa is for a continent reconciled, at peace, enjoying freedom and justice in prosperity for all, not just a chosen few. To paraphrase the Pope; God wants Africans to stand up on their feet, to rediscover the courage to ask for what belongs to them, with dignity, as his children.

God has blessed Uganda with an abundance and variety of resources, more than enough to ensure that every Ugandan lives a decent life, but alas! A few greedy and wicked men have grabbed, by brutal force, God’s gifts for all his people for themselves and their stooges. They have shamelessly reduced the vast majority of Ugandans to the status of paupers and homeless beggars. What a disgrace! What a shame!

Towards the end of the homily the normally cool and humble Pope sounds charged, I guess by the Holy Spirit, and urges the Church of Christ to muster courage and get up on its feet because “you have been called by God to spread the “salt” and “light” of the Gospel (the Good News) everywhere! Amen.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.