“Don’t go there, they worship the devil there,” the people warned Bishop Francis Aquirinius Kibira. The region located in the southwestern part of Uganda at the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo was considered a gloomy and dangerous place. Violence and crime were a normal part of daily life, drug consumption and prostitution all-pervasive. However, more than anything, the area was known for its followers of 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 consequences.
However, the new bishop of Kasese did not let the warnings deter him: only two days after his ordination in July 2014, he drove out to this border region. He stopped at a chapel in the village of Kabuyiri. When he entered the chapel, he came upon twenty young women, 16 to 20 years of age, all of them paralysed. 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,” Bishop Kibira commented in an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “Deep down inside, I heard a voice saying to me that a priest was needed there. I also suddenly realised that this would be a good place for a Shrine of The Divine Mercy.”
The bishop visited the priest who oversaw the parish in which the chapel is located. The priest could not believe that the bishop was in fact serious about his idea. He argued that up until that point, all priests had refused to visit and work in that place. Unperturbed, the bishop set a deadline for the foundation of a new Shrine of The Divine Mercy. He soon also found a priest who was willing to serve there.
The shrine was completed in 2016, the Holy Year of Mercy, and has in the meantime become a place of grace for countless people. Holy Mass is celebrated there every day, and at 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’ death, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy is prayed. The Blessed Sacrament is also exposed for worship each day. Hundreds of believers gather even on workdays, on Sundays and holidays they number in the thousands. Every Monday, a large number of believers receives the Sacrament of Penitence. Many also use the opportunity to confide their personal problems to a priest and ask him for advice and help. Local priests have told the bishop that this has resulted in the reconciliation of many broken families.
Bishop Kibira himself is deeply moved, “I cannot believe it! Every seat is taken, thousands came on the Feast of Divine Mercy 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, that is a mistake.’ But I answered, ‘Do you not believe in the power of the Blessed Sacrament?’ Today, they all say, ‘It was a good decision.’” Believers often speak of prayers that were answered and healings that occurred.
According to Bishop Kibira, many people have changed their lives. “There was a family in the village that was rumoured to worship the devil, and so people warned the priest that he should not go visit them. In the end, this was the first family who had their child baptised in the shrine,” the bishop rejoiced. “Even the local police officers say to me, ‘Thank you, we are so glad that we have a priest here now. There used to be problems here every day, now things are no longer as bad. That is the power of Jesus!’” The police officers themselves come to Holy Mass and the adoration. Lorry drivers crossing the border also find strength and solace here “in the encounter with Jesus Christ.”
The changes are also evident in other areas. As an example, about 300 fathers who had fallen prey to drug addiction have in the meantime returned to their families. In contrast to the past, only few suicides are committed in the region and adolescents attend Holy Mass and the Eucharistic adoration instead of destroying their lives with alcohol, drugs, sexual adventures and crime. 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 a number of prisoners have started holding their own devotions. And so the grace that arises at the shrine even penetrates through the locked doors and walls of the prisons, Bishop Kibira commented.
Pilgrims make the long journey on foot to pray in the shrine, the bishop observed. “When we open our hearts, we act in the power of God. This place, once so terribly neglected, has become a portal of mercy for the diocese.”
Toni Zender, head of projects for the Ugandan section of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need who just recently paid a visit to the area, was also very impressed, “I was deeply moved by this experience. It is overwhelming to see over a thousand people kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. You can watch as many people open themselves up to the grace of Christ and are happy about the presence of the church in their area.”
Last year, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need supported the Catholic church in Uganda with over 750,000 euros, mainly for the training of prospective priests and religious. In addition, a large number of priests received Mass stipends. Further aid was granted to acquire vehicles for use in pastoral care as well as to renovate church buildings.