MUNYONYO, Uganda — Speaking with catechists and teachers in Uganda, Pope Francis on Friday offered encouragement and stressed that witnessing the faith is critical for the growth of the Church.
“Even when the task seems too much, the resources too few, the obstacles too great, it should never be forgotten that yours is a holy work,” he said.
“The Holy Spirit is present wherever the name of Christ is proclaimed. He is in our midst whenever we lift up our hearts and minds to God in prayer. He will give you the light and strength you need!”
Pope Francis arrived in Uganda Nov. 27 as part of a larger African tour. He had previously been visiting Kenya and will next go to the Central African Republic.
His visit to Uganda comes just after the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs.
St. Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions were killed by the king in the 1880s alongside 23 Anglican converts to Christianity for refusing to recant their faith, and were canonized Oct. 18, 1964, by Blessed Pope Paul VI in St. Peter's Basilica.
Speaking to the catechists gathered before him, Pope Francis commented on what it means to be a teacher of the Christian faith.
“'Teacher!' What a beautiful name this is! Jesus is our first and greatest teacher,” the Pope reflected. “St. Paul tells us that Jesus gave his Church not only apostles and pastors, but also teachers, to build up the whole body in faith and love.”
“Together with the bishops, priests and deacons who are ordained to preach the Gospel and care for the Lord’s flock, you, as catechists, play an outstanding part in bringing the Good News to every village and homestead in your country,” he said.
Pope Francis thanked the teachers and catechists for their sacrifices, zeal and devotion.
“Thank you for your dedication, your example, your closeness to God’s people in their daily lives, and all the many ways you plant and nurture the seeds of faith throughout this vast land,” he continued. “Thank you especially for teaching our children and young people how to pray. I know that your work, although rewarding, is not easy.”
The Holy Father called for bishops and priests to support their local catechists with doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral formation, helping them to persevere and be more effective in their witness.
He stressed the importance of the job of catechesis, saying, “You teach what Jesus taught, you instruct adults and help parents to raise their children in the faith, and you bring the joy and hope of eternal life to all.”
In addition, he called on the teachers to offer an example of prayer, forgiveness and Eucharist.
“The message you bring will take root all the more firmly in people’s hearts if you are not only a teacher but also a witness,” he said.
The Martyrs’ Witness
It was the faithful witness of the Ugandan martyrs that helped the Christian community in the nation to flourish, the Pope observed.
“They testified to the truth which sets men free; they were willing to shed their blood to be faithful to what they knew was good and beautiful and true.”
While the king was determined to wipe out the Christians, he failed and “[a]fter seeing the fearless testimony of St. Andrew Kaggwa and his companions, Christians in Uganda became even more convinced of Christ’s promises.”
Pope Francis concluded his remarks by asking for the intercession of the Ugandan martyrs and encouraging the catechists to offer a grace-filled witness of God’s truth and joy.
“Go forth without fear to every town and village in this country, to spread the good seed of God’s word, and trust in his promise that you will come back rejoicing, with sheaves full from the harvest,” he said.