Kigungu, landing site for first Catholic missionaries

The monument reads, "On this spot landed the first catholic missionaries of Uganda on the 17th day of February in the year of our lord 1879, Reverend Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans of the society of the white fathers.” Photo by Edgar R. Batte

In a popular catholic hymn titled Amansi ne Mapeera a catholic choir sings out about the history of the entry of the first catholic missionaries, Father Siméon Lourdel Pere (Mapeera) and Brother Amans Delmas (Amansi) who came to Uganda on 17, February, 1879.

“They found Kabaka Muteesa waiting on for them and gave them a village called Rubya in Kyaddondo. They taught people and healed the sick. Even though they suffered they did their work happily,” the choir goes on to sing in the hymn.

“When they left Indian Ocean they came to Bukoba side and heard of Kabaka Muteesa so they sent the first group that came over Lake Victoria which was of Fr. Lourdel commonly known as Mapeera and Brother Delmas, both from France,” Reverend Father Ignatius Kayita explains.

In an editorial run by ‘Mission d’Algeria’ newspaper, the missionaries had done work in other parts of Africa. The newspaper reported that one of the missionaries, Brother Amans, on completion of his two years of novisia he left Algeria and headed to Central Africa.

He spent a year and more on this journey on which he encountered immense suffering but he completed the journey.

In the shades of the forest, somewhere in Africa, he said mass. Author, Father Yves Tourigny, writes his book Bajjajjaffe mu Kukkiriza which has been translated by Father R.D Kasole that the place in question was in Nabulagala near Lubaga and the mass was said on 19th, October, 1879.

Mario Cisternino, an academic and active missionary who has worked in Uganda writes in his book, Passion for Africa- Missionary and Imperial Paper on the Evangelization of Uganda and Sudan, 1848-1923, that the first group of Missionaries was Anglican and arrived from England on the 30th June1877, totally unaware of the ill feeling that Gordon had implanted in the King’s heart and at the royal court.

Therefore, Cisternino writes, the first group ended up by returning and settling at the same time as the second group, which arrived from France on the 8th Feb. 1879. Being catholic, he adds, this time their leader was truly and simply a priest, Leo Livinhac.

“King Muteesa asked himself what king of people these Missionaries were as they did offer gifts like the explorers who had preceded them, but did not trade or officially represent their land’s leaders. They even refused the offer of girls for sexual pleasure, who had been accepted by all previous explorers and travellers, and lived in chastity,” Cisternino writes.

The academic goes on, “They did not get drunk, kept walking around with books in their hands and were only interested in speaking about God and his Prophet Jesus Christ."

The legacy of these missionaries still stands amidst us. Father Kayita was parish priest of Entebbe at the time of construction of the church in memory of the two first catholic missionaries. The church was constructed four years after Father Kayita was posted to Entebbe, in 1993.

“There was a programme in place of building a church in memory of Mapeera under the parish. The land was not for the church but under Entebbe municipality. The parish had to negotiate with Entebbe municipality to give that part to the parish and we were given a lease but the church wanted more land so we had to negotiate with the locals,” Father Kayita adds.

The church got the land and a plan was drawn but was an expensive one. “It was drawn by Dr. Anthony Lubega, the father of Charlie Lubega, owner of Ange Noir. He was the first architect to get a doctorate south of the Sahara. He drew the first plan and estimated the church would cost 300 million shillings to construct,” Reverend Kayita recollects.

He adds, “It was introduced to Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga who said it was too expensive. He asked another plan be drawn. Dr. Lubega in consultation with another architecture, one Kizito, drew another plan which would cost the church at least 150 million shillings. In early 1993 we began on the project and construction went on till 1997.”

Father Christopher Kiwanuka who succeeded Father Kayita finished the construction of the church.

Today a monument was constructed by Missionaries of Africa to which Fr. Lourdel and Brother Amans belonged. The monument depicts the two missionaries, in white, kneeling and humbled in prayer.

In the midst of the kneeling missionaries is a concrete with words. They read, “On this spot landed the first catholic missionaries of Uganda on the 17th day of February in the year of our lord 1879, Reverend Simeon Lourdel and Brother Amans of the society of the white fathers.”

The memorabilia metallic placard is affixed on a concrete and half bricks and just below it a cross and further below the word ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, taken from the Lord’s Prayer.

On right is Brother Amans with a travel case besides him. He is a humble man in prayer and just besides the bag is a hut, perhaps it shielded him from the tropical heat.

The memorials are kept in metallic hedge, on raised ground and then just below are stones that separate the lake from the monument. From this side of the lake you can see both the monument and the Church with the fisherman taking their sits and enjoying small talk. The church is covered in blue iron sheets, windows and beautified with small bricks.

This beauty in concrete forms the reason for Catholicism in Ugandan and the
Cradle of the faithful who visit this site every February 29, from within and outside these boarders.

“In Muteesa’s Court there had been a particular important group of priests, initiated into the Lubaale, but he had got rid of them, except for those who were very efficient at treating physical or psychological ailments. Others were scattered all over the hills and were connected with minor spirits (Kabona),” missionary, Mario Cisternino, further writes.

But in this history one adventurer cannot be omitted, Henry Morton Stanley who wrote a letter the letter that aroused the foreign mission that were only too eager to meet Kabaka Muteesa and disseminate Christianity in a land that was not known more than a dark continent.
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