Mission Diary: Father P. Longinos – “Being a reference point”

I am in the parish of Kanawat, in the land of the Karimojong, in north-eastern Uganda. The irregular rains of recent years have brought us through a period of poor harvests. There are areas where things are better, but in others, there are people who need help.
From the parish, we are supporting different groups of people in the most affected areas. I am continually shocked to see how people deal with their hardships, especially when they are faced with disease or crop failures and food shortages.

It pains me to see children who lack the minimum necessary to grow up healthy. Life goes on and you can’t stop or you will be left behind. It is not easy to foresee the medium-term future but, as missionaries, we cannot give up and just wait for something to happen. We must be a point of reference and a people of hope.

One thing I don’t wish to hide is the violence in Karamoja. There have been quite a few robberies on the streets lately. Armed groups stop cars and motorcycles to rob them at gunpoint, which is better than getting shot before stopping the vehicle. For our part, we can move in the usual work areas, i.e., most of the territory of the parish, but moving outside these areas, where we are not known, can sometimes be dangerous.

Rifles are once again circulating among young people, putting the entire population at risk. The army is trying to recover these weapons and the Karimojong are not making it easy for them. When the former carry out military operations, both the guilty and the innocent often suffer. Indeed, a few weeks ago, two catechists accused of using or possessing weapons were placed in the detention centre.

Sometimes, envy and quarrels lead some to accuse innocent people, and the military often goes after them without checking too much. I have been going to the detention centre every day for a week now and have managed to get one of them released, but not the other. I show up at the police station every morning, so they must be fed up with my annoying presence.

Paolino, the cook of the Comboni Sisters, was recently killed. The murder did not take place during a raid, as often happens in Karamoja, but by well-organized thieves. It was late in the evening when Paolino heard the screams of a woman crying for help. He went out to help her, acting instinctively, without thinking about it. Behind him there was a man with a rifle who killed him with one shot, hitting him right in the head.

According to the culture, no one touches a person who has been killed with a rifle, because it’s bad luck. The following morning the news arrived that Paolino was dead and no one had touched him yet. With a Comboni Sister, we went to Paolino’s house and found Paolino lying in a pool of blood. The Sister prepared his body and the next day the funeral was celebrated according to local rituals.
In Karamoja, many people are involved in blood crimes. Previously arrows and spears were used, but now there are weapons. We have had periods of peace and quiet, but again there has been a return to arms trafficking and a consequent increase in violence.
(Fr. Longinos Lopez)

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