by ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
At present, in the village of Alokolum, northern Uganda, 220 young men from various different dioceses of the country are training for the priesthood at the major seminary . This is good news of course, but it also presents the seminary with a major challenge,for now it is bursting at the seams. Therefore, there is an urgent need to renovate one of the seminary buildings housing the seminarians, to keep it habitable given the already very limited space available.
During the civil strife in Uganda, which lasted from 1988 until 2007, the seminary in Alokolum shared directly in the sufferings of so many of its people. During the war, and indeed for some time afterwards, a refugee camp actually stood within the grounds of the seminary. As part of their studies, the seminarians are given special training in supporting and helping the traumatized population. Many people were forced to watch as their sisters, mothers, daughters or wives were raped and others murdered. Many mothers saw their children abducted and dragged off into the bush.
The Church was not spared this violence either. For example, on May 11, 2003, rebels of the notorious “Lord’s Resistance Army” overran the minor seminary in the diocese of Gulu and abducted 41 of its seminarians. The young men were taken off into the bush and forced to train as child soldiers. Twelve remain missing to this day. The people need help now to rebuild their lives. “Almost an entire generation has either been born in or grown up in the refugee camps. The whole culture of work has been destroyed, since each day the people simply took their food rations and now no longer know how to earn their own living,” explains Father Cosmas Alule, the rector of the seminary.
This is where the Church has stepped in and is providing a great deal of support and counselling to people. It is true that the government is helping to some extent by providing some building materials and seed for people who are returning to their villages, but of course, this does not suffice. “It is a matter of helping the people to re-establish their lives in a psychological, cultural and spiritual sense as well,” the rector emphasizes. A number of priests were themselves abducted, imprisoned, wounded and in some cases even killed during the war.
One priest had his hands shot through with bullets as he was driving on his way to a church. Many seminarians from the current group have also suffered trauma. This presents a real challenge for the instructors. These spiritual directors address these problems intensively. “Yet at the same time, it is a good thing that these future priests have also shared the experiences of the people, for we need priests who know what suffering is. If someone has been through these painful experiences and still has the capacity not to be broken by them, then he can help others much better,” the rector concludes.
ACN is hoping to help with a grant of $27,000 for the renovation of the residential wing, to ensure the seminary will not be forced to turn away any of these young men who are willing to place themselves in God’s service, as good shepherds to their people.