Pope: "...you are a people of martyrs. Through your own veins runs the blood of martyrs."
Greeting the Holy Father at the Kololo Airstrip in Kampala, two young Ugandans presented moving testimonies full of pain, and also of the hope and fortitude they find in their faith. These remarks were delivered Saturday morning. We present them to you in full:
Testimony of Emmanuel Odokonyero
It was on 11th May 2003 at 11.00pm when the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels attacked Sacred Heart Minor Seminary, Lacor. They broke the window and pushed a child inside to open the door to the “O” Level dormitory where they abducted 41 students, me included.
We left the school premises at 2.00am and walked until 4.00am, where we met the bigger group of abducted people. Due to the fear of the helicopter, they separated us into small groups so that we could not escape. In captivity, we faced several challenges: starvation, poor shelter, beating and burning people’s backs with hot panga to make sign of the cross – which burns in the long run developed wounds; others had swollen legs, while some of our friends were murdered. I was tortured and they tied my hands behind my back and I failed to breathe. I wanted to ask to be killed rather than to suffer such a pain. They then untied me and warned me not to escape.
By God’s grace, I managed to escape on 11th August 2003 from Namokora Sub-county, Kitgum District when we were forced to cross the road. It was not in my powers but the Merciful God who guided me through these trying movements.
My heart is full of sorrow and pity for those who lost their lives in captivity. I ask all of you gathered here today, to pray for the remaining eleven seminarians and all those in captivity that the Almighty God strengthens, protect and leads them back to us.
To those who tortured us, am glad my heart has found love, forgiveness, peace and joy. They are all forgiven because Jesus Christ broke the power of death by suffering on the Cross.
Despite all these challenges faced in captivity, when I escaped I did not give up. With the support of kind people, I went back to school and graduated with a Degree in Business Administration.
Dear young people, amidst temptations and other challenges in our lives, let us remain strong in our faith by believing and putting our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Testimony of Winnie Nansumba
I am Nansumba Winnie, born and living with HIV. Am 24 years old and graduated from Ndejje University. I lost both parents before I was barely seven years old. In 1999 I was enrolled in Mild May
Uganda where I was started on Septrin. Four years later, I got measles and pneumonia which left me with only 5 CD4 counts and therefore was put on ARVs. During that time drugs were very expensive, but with the support of my aunt and MildMay Uganda, I was able to get the drugs every month.
As a young woman, I always found it hard to fall in love because I thought I didn’t have a right to love and be loved. I was always afraid of explaining my life. Thank God I developed a positive attitude towards this over time.
Remembering the words of the late Philly Bongole Lutaya a famous Ugandan musician; “let us stand together and fight AIDS;” he became my role model and I realized that I can be like him and use my story to teach, inspire and create positive change.
Dear young people, our bodies are God’s temple and we have to take care of them! God wants us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The fullness of life cannot be experienced when we are oppressed, enslaved and living in a situation of sin. We must respect our life and that of others. Living our life to the fullest keeps us united with God and hence away from STDs/STIs.
As young people let’s work together regardless of our status we need to adopt new practices and behaviours that will help each one of us play their role in the fight against HIV. We are not fighting a lost battle our elders have done their part and developments have been seen. It’s now our time to play our part. Young people living with HIV need car, love and support instead of sympathy, pity and rejection.
A word is enough for a wise person. HIV is real but it can be prevented and managed. Take charge of your life because God loves you and he wants you to continue bear witness amidst all the challenges faced by young people.
When you are seated in a crowd, just know you are the only one who is HIV negative and your neighbor is not. So it’s your own initiative to know your neighbours status if need be. Let us continue to grow responsibly, witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis said to the youth of Uganda:
“I listened with great pain in my heart – Francis said in Spanish with the help of his interpreter who translated into English – to the testimonies of Winnie and Emanuel. As I was listening I asked myself a question. Does a negative experience have a purpose in life? The answer is yes. Both Emanuel and Winnie have had very negative experiences in their lives. Winnie thought she had no future, that life was like a wall in front of her. But Jesus showed her that in life great miracles are possible. A wall can be transformed into a path towards the future. A path that opens up to the future. Many of us here have had negative experiences. There’s always a possibility of opening a path to the future and of opening it with the power of Jesus. Today Winnie transformed her depression and bad experience into hope and this is not magic. This is the work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus is the Lord.”
The Pope addressed a series of questions to the young people present, receiving an enthusiastic “yes” in response to each of these: “Are you ready to turn all the negative things in your life, into something positive? Are you ready to turn hate into love? Are you ready to turn war into peace? All of you be aware that you are a people of martyrs. Through your own veins runs the blood of martyrs. That is why you have such a strong faith and a life to enjoy now.”
When “we don’t work well”, Francis said joking about a slight technical hitch with one of the microphones, “we must ask for Jesus’ help”. “Jesus can change your life. Jesus can break down all the walls that rise up before you. Jesus can turn your life into service towards others.” “If you need help, ask for it. This means prayer. Prayer is the most powerful weapon a young person has. Jesus loves everyone! He want to help everyone. You must open your heart to him and let him in. When Jesus opens your life, he fights against all the problems Winnie talked about. He helps fight against depression, against AIDS, ask for help in overcoming these situations.”
Finally, Francis invited young people to pray to Mary: “When a boy falls over and hurts himself, he runs over to his mother. When we have a problem, the best thing we can do is to turn to our mother and pray to Mary our Mother.”