Fr Aylward Shorter M.Afr
My experiences in Uganda.
After submitting and defending my doctoral thesis, I returned to East Africa in early 1968. I had been appointed to “Gaba”, a pastoral and catechetical institute in Uganda. This was founded by AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa)
Population: 35 million
Poverty index: 0.367%
Life expectancy: 53.24 years
Access to clean water: 67%
Adult literacy: 66.8%
GDP per head: $1,300 (2010 est.)
HIV/AIDS rates: 6.5% (2009 est.)
Infant mortality: 62.47/1,000 live births
Religions: Roman Catholic 41.9%, Protestant 42%, Other 16.1%
and was a fine example of the collegiality desired by the Second Vatican Council, bringing together the Bishops of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia (to be joined later by Sudan, Ethiopia and Mozambique). Consequently, there were people from all these countries, following the institute’s annual 9 month course as well as significant numbers from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Cameroon. My main task was to teach them “African Pastoral Anthropology”.
My nine years at Gaba were among the happiest and most productive of my life. Moreover, the Institute sent me out to every corner of the African continent for research, extra-mural lectures, and meetings. A major task of the Institute was to introduce Church leaders – priests, religious, teachers - to the theology and pastoral decisions of Vatican II. Gaba was therefore, for me, a painless introduction to the Council’s spirit, as well as to its renewal of liturgy, doctrine and pastoral/catechetical practice. The course was planned so that lectures in theology, Bible, catechetics and anthropology complemented each other.
The Institute’s buildings had formerly housed the Mill Hill Fathers’ major seminary. They stood beside Lake Victoria’s Murchison Gulf about five miles from the centre of Kampala City, the capital of Uganda. The site is the most beautiful one I know in Africa. Lawns swept down to the lake shore. The bird life was amazing. Every morning, the stately crested cranes performed their courtship dance in front of the staff house and the sea-gull-like cry of the fish eagles could be heard in the surrounding trees. The lake steamers passed in front of us on their way to and from Port Bell. Kampala City was a beautiful, compact capital, as yet unspoilt by war, the finest of the five capital cities of Eastern Africa.
In 1969 I was asked to found and run a Research Department for AMECEA. With the help of research and secretarial assistants, I embarked firstly on a survey of catechists in the AMECEA countries, plus Rwanda and Burundi African Christian Marriage. Then in 1971 a massive ecumenical research project on marriage – the Churches’ Research on Marriage in Africa (CROMIA) – was launched in the AMECEA countries plus Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa. The project generated a number of reports, the principal one being African Christian Marriage (1977) which was hailed as “a seminal work on the subject”.
In 1969 Pope Paul VI came to Kampala, the first visit of a reigning pope to the African continent. Gaba was very much involved in the organization of the visit and I myself was a member of the liturgical committee. Because of this, I also functioned as a master of ceremonies at the Kololo and Namugongo papal “spectaculars”. One of the purposes of the visit was to close the first all-Africa meeting of bishops (SECAM) which took place at Gaba. Among the VIP guests at Gaba were Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, Chairman of the Liturgical Consilium and Archbishop (later Cardinal) Sergio Pignedoli, Secretary of Propaganda Fide. The former warmly encouraged us to compose African Eucharistic Prayers, while the latter, on becoming, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, arranged for me to become a consulter of the Council. I held this post for six years (1973-1979).
As Consulter for Interreligious Dialogue, I was asked by Cardinal Pignedoli to organize a meeting at Gaba for Dialogue with representatives of African Traditional Religions. This took place in 1974. I visited Cardinal Pignedoli several times in Rome and in 1975 he came to Uganda as Papal Legate for the dedication of the completed Martyrs’ Shrine at Namugongo.
An important project undertaken by the Gaba Institute was to create an ecumenical RE Syllabus for secondary schools. I was asked to be the anthropologist of the team, writing essays on each of the themes of the syllabus. We produced a syllabus for Forms I and II called Developing in Christ. Then we produced a more sophisticated one for Forms III and IV called Christian Living Today. The books, which were beautifully laid out, were published by a Catholic publisher in London. The project was immediately successful and the Syllabus was adopted in a number of African countries in English or in translation.
The English Mass which was celebrated each Sunday at Gaba drew many distinguished visitors, among them the American ambassador and the British High Commissioner and their families. We also had various Ugandan Catholic celebrities as visitors. Sadly, some of these were murdered by the regime of Idi Amin. By the end of 1975, it was becoming impossible to operate an international institute in Uganda. Some countries were opposed to Amin and their nationals were not welcome. Entry visas and work permits were being denied to students and staff from these countries. Under these circumstances, it was necessary to move the Institute to Kenya at the end of 1975.
I paid several visits to Uganda in subsequent years. The most important were to give two one-week renewal courses to the priests of Mbarara Diocese in 1976 and to give lectures to Missionaries of Africa on the evangelization of African cultures in 2000. The nine years that I spent altogether in Uganda were not without stress, but I acquired a great appreciation and respect for its people, among whom I count many friends, and also developed a great love for this “Pearl of Africa”.
Aylward Shorter M.Afr.