Parish and School News

From Belmont to Uganda

Sunday, December 11 2011

By Fr Len Thomas PE

Kairos Catholic Journal

St Bernard's parish, Belmont, in Geelong, and Fr Nestus Mugisha's parish of St Luke in Mannya, Uganda, have been sister parishes for several years. As part of that relationship, St Bernard's built a health centre in Mannya that opened in July 2007 and this year alone has seen 12,000 patients.Belmont

Fr Nestus, in Australia in October, said the partnership between Mannya and Belmont had given him fresh motivation to bring the message of Jesus to the local people in Mannya, where AIDS/HIV had devastated many. He said the people of Mannya had gained hope and were encouraged to do more for their community's social, economic and spiritual development.

Mannya has 20 individual outstations stretching over 80 kilometres. With the health centre in operation, most people are now putting aside the witch doctor and are attending the clinic, which is staffed by 10 nurses, all Ugandans. Five of the nurses are paid by St Bernard's Parish and five by the Cotton On Foundation, the charitable arm of Cotton On Clothing Company – a Geelong company – which has joined St Bernard's in the development of Mannya parish.

Fr Nestus said: "It helps me to see God's providence and nearness to us in our need."

What has happened to the parish of Belmont as a result of this relationship? Former parish priest of St Bernard's, Fr Peter Foley said the parish had renewed itself as a result of the union. People had committed themselves to raising $40,000 a year outside the normal parish financial activities. In 2010, two Geelong Football Club premiership players, Brad Ottens and Tom Lonergan, went to Mannya and two more are scheduled to visit later this year.

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote: "To be human is to change and to change often is to be perfectly human." We are constantly seeking change. All parishes in Australia are looking at ways to renew parish life. Reaching out beyond ourselves becomes a way of renewal.

Fr Nestus said that when travelling around the capital cities of Australia he had spoken to a large number of people who felt some sort of emptiness in their lives.

"They seem to yearn for their spiritual side. I see so much that people have and yet many tell me there is an emptiness that they long to fill." After being with us for four days Fr Nestus said it was the first time he had met elderly priests. Most priests in his diocese of Masaka are between the ages of 35 and 45. He asked me: "What is going to happen to the Church in Australia when all of your elders go to God?" I answered: "Maybe your country will send missionaries to us."

Fr Nestus talked about forming relationships. To this end he met 10 students from St Joseph's College and Clonard College in Geelong, who are travelling to Mannya on 5 December. Two teachers are going with them and these young students will meet students their own age in Mannya. Last February two boys from St Joseph's spent six weeks at Mannya. Matthew worked in the health centre and is now studying nursing at Deakin University. Joe worked with pupils in the school, developing their English. He is now studying teaching at Deakin.

Cotton On Clothing Company chief executive Nigel Austin said similar things to Fr Foley about his company's involvement with the Belmont and Mannya parishes. Each year about 80 employees travel to Mannya to see for themselves what is being achieved as a result of their raising more than 500 sponsorships for children in Mannya.

Mr Austin said: "Mannya has done more for Cotton On than Cotton On has done for Mannya." The company is now branching out to another parish in the Masaka diocese, the parish of Bushibo. And another parishioner of St Bernard's has committed his company to the parish of Namabaale.

Development is the new name for peace, Pope Paul VI wrote in Progressio Populorum. Change and development is happening not only in Belmont and Mannya but all around us and the relationships that are being formed continue to drive that change.

Fr Len Thomas PE lives in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Kairos Catholic Journal Volume 22. No. 23