Birth of a new place of grace
“Don’t go there, they worship the devil there,” the people warned Bishop Francis Aquirinius Kibira when he was ordained as bishop. This region in southwestern Uganda, at the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was considered a dark and dangerous place. Violence and crime were a normal part of everyday life, and drug use and prostitution were widespread. However, the area was especially known for its deep belief in witchcraft. A lot of damage was done by magic rituals and occult practices, with symptoms of obsession, suicides and destroyed families being just a few of the disastrous consequences.
However, the new bishop of Kasese did not let the warnings deter him: only two days after his ordination in July 2014, Bishop Francis Aquirinius Kibira drove out to this border region. He stopped at a chapel in the village of Kabuyiri. Upon entering, he found twenty young women between the ages of 16 and 20, all paralyzed. The catechist explained to the bishop that they had been “bewitched”. The bishop began to pray, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, You have sent me to this diocese, do good here. Heal these girls in Your Almighty Name.” According to Bishop Kibira, it was not long before the girls got up and were able to walk again.
The bishop was surprised to learn that the chapel had been built in 1982 by a police officer who, in response to the many problems afflicting the area, had understood that “Jesus was needed here”. “However, I did find it strange that there was no priest in the area,” commented Bishop Kibira. In an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he confided, “Deep down inside, I heard a voice saying to me that a priest needed to be sent there. I also suddenly realized that this would be a good place for a Shrine of The Divine Mercy.”
The bishop then visited the priest who oversaw the parish to which the chapel* belongs. The priest could not believe that the bishop was in fact serious about his idea. Up until now, all priests had refused to go there to work. Unperturbed, the bishop set a deadline for the foundation of a new Shrine of The Divine Mercy. He eventually found a priest who was willing to serve there.
The “Portal of the Divine Mercy”
The shrine was completed in 2016, the Holy Year of Mercy. This place has become a place of grace for countless people. The Eucharist is celebrated there every day, and at 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’s death, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy is prayed, as well as the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Hundreds of worshippers gather even on weekdays; on Sundays and holidays they number in the thousands. Moreover, every Monday, many worshippers receive the Sacrament of Penitence. Many confide their personal problems to a priest and find solace and counsel. Local priests have told the bishop that this has allowed for the reconciliation of many broken families.
Bishop Kibira is deeply moved, “I can hardly believe it! Every seat is taken on the day of the Feast of Divine Mercy; thousands of people came and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. That evening, as I lay in bed, I shed tears of joy. Before, everyone was saying, ‘You can’t go there, you could be killed, it’s a mistake’, but I replied, ‘Do you not believe in the power of the Blessed Sacrament?’ Today, they all say, ‘It was a good decision.’” Believers constantly speak of prayers answered and healings.
According to the bishop, many people have changed their lives. “There was a family in the village that was rumoured to worship the devil. People advised the priest not to go near them. In the end, this was the first family to have their child baptized in this shrine,” the bishop rejoiced.
“Even the local police officers said to me, ‘Thank you, we are so glad that we have a priest here now. There used to be problems here every day. Today, there are far fewer. That is the power of Jesus!’” The police officers themselves take part in the Eucharist and the Eucharistic adoration. As for the truck drivers who cross the border, they also find strength and solace in this shrine “in the encounter with Jesus Christ.”
The changes are also evident on other levels. Thus, about 300 fathers who had fallen prey to drug addiction have returned to their families. Unlike before, there are only a few suicides in the region; instead of destroying their lives, as in the past, with alcohol, drugs, sexual adventures and crime, adolescents regularly attend the Eucharist and the Eucharistic adoration. Even the number of traffic accidents has declined. Things have also changed for the prisoners in the two local prisons: they now receive pastoral care and some of them have started arranging time for devotions. And so the grace that emanates from this place goes beyond the locked doors and walls of the prisons, Bishop Kibira commented.
The bishop also notes that pilgrims come on foot from afar to pray in this shrine. “When we open our hearts, we act in the power of God. This particularly neglected place has become a portal of divine mercy for the diocese.”
Toni Zender, Project Manager for Uganda for the pontifical Aid to the Church in Need, recently paid a visit to the area and was very impressed, “I was deeply moved by this experience. It is overwhelming to see over a thousand people kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. We can see how a large number of people open themselves up to the grace of Christ and rejoice in the presence of the church in their area.”
Last year, Aid to the Church in Need supported the Catholic Church in Uganda with over $1,133 million, mainly to finance training of prospective priests and clerics. Furthermore, many priests were helped through Mass stipends. Finally, aid helped to purchase vehicles for use in pastoral care, as well as to renovate church buildings.
*In remote areas, rural or jungle, the Church often constructs chapels for people who reside far from the parish church.