Tuesday 5 June 2007
In 1987, St Bernard’s Parish, Belmont, entered into a sister parish relationship with Mannya Parish in Uganda. According to the present parish priest, Fr Nestus Mugisha, Mannya parish was referred to in the Masaka Diocese as 'Mission Impossible.' Each year St Bernard’s had a special collection and would send about $1500 to Fr Nestus. Fr Peter Foley, parish priest at St Bernard's, said his parishioners were always very generous, "although none of us really understood how desperate life could be in Mannya parish. Fr Nestus referred to our help as 'manna from Heaven.' Here in Australia of course $1500 is not 'small biccies', but in Uganda it [is] worth so much more when it comes to buying food or other essential goods."
In 2004, Br Russell Peters of St Bernard’s Parish was transferred to Nairobi, Kenya. In a way, Br Russell became St Bernard's representative; since his transfer to Kenya he has visited Mannya three times on the parish's behalf and has met with the Mannya parish council to ask what their greatest needs are. From this more informed contact, St Bernard’s learned that a medical centre was urgently needed. The Belmont parish then took up the challenge of providing $52,000 to build the medical centre. But it does not end there – the relationship between St Bernard’s and Mannya parish inspires others to action. The Belmont Rotary Club has joined with St Bernard’s and Uganda Rotary to meet the running costs of the medical centre. The Australian High Commission for Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania has recently supplied a solar hot water system for the medical centre and has put a new roof on one of the schools in the Mannya Parish.
Clairvaux Catholic Primary School in the Belmont parish has raised $3600 from a walk-a-thon. Br Russell recently wrote to the school telling them that their financial gift will provide porridge for all the children at the Mannya school for four months.There are 612 children in the main parish school at Mannya and over 350 of them are AIDS orphans being reared by their grandmothers. Recently, Jack Brittain, a young boy in Grade 3 at Clairvaux, decided he wanted to help the Mannya children. He raffled a jar of lollies after a weekend mass and raised $328. More children are now asking, "What can I do?"
"The extraordinary thing is that something small has grown into something much bigger," says Fr Peter. "The parish has raised $80,000 towards the project without having an appeal. The Spirit of God seems to be really active and parishioners have taken…real ownership of the project. Those who can have contributed whatever they could and the project has become a focus of the St Bernard’s parish."
The parish council has agreed to fund the project for at least three years to the tune of $10,000 per annum.Fr Peter said that his parish’s involvement with the Mannya parish has given himself and others a whole new lease on life. "I am enlivened with a new and strong sense of mission. In this country we enjoy the legacy of our forefathers – our faith, our civil society and our relative wealth. Now we can, with parishioners, help preserve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Africa and contribute to the flourishing faith in that community." On 15 June this year, Fr Peter will go to Uganda to be present at the opening of the centre. He has packed his gum boots because the rains have come early to Uganda and he has promised to tell Kairos of his visit when he returns.Fr Peter said he knows he is going on a journey of a lifetime to meet with people whose experience of life and faith is very different to his own. He pointed out that the images supplied to Catholic Communications Melbourne showed something of the great spirit of his African neighbours: they show well-dressed, proud parishioners celebrating a parish event. Fr Peter said even though they may be very hungry when it comes to a celebration they will dress up to present themselves as well as they can. "You would never know how the community struggles day-to-day. They take great pride and joy in life itself – not necessarily quality of life."
Perhaps this joy in life provides a lesson to be learnt from our African neighbours.