Murdered Ugandan Priest’s Family Shows Witness of Deep Faith

Comboni Missionary Father John Ssenyondo was murdered earlier this year in Mexico.

Comboni Father John Ssenyond
Comboni Father John Ssenyond (photo: Facebook)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Comboni Father Sylvester Hategek’Imana, together with other Comboni missionaries, joined the faithful and priests from the Masaka Diocese for a Mass in the home of the late Father John Ssenyondo on Nov. 19.

BBC reported the previous week that the Ugandan missionary’s remains were identified in a mass grave in Mexico. Father Ssenyondo, 55, had been missing since being kidnapped April 30 by unknown assailants in southwestern Guerrero state. The killers are alleged to be part of a local drug gang.

The grave was located by federal police looking for 43 students who went missing in the area on Sept. 26. According to a BBC report, Father Ssenyondo, a diocesan priest formerly with the Comboni Fathers, had been in the country for five years.

According to Father Hategek’Imana, who heads the Combonis’ Uganda mission, the celebration at the priest’s native home was characterized by a witness of deep faith and extraordinary understanding shown by his elderly mother and his sister Imelda, who is a nun.

“Father John, like John the Baptist, has followed into the footsteps of the master as a witness to the truth. He is a blessing to the family, and we owe him a debt, especially we whom he has left behind as an example to emulate,” one of the mourners said.

His elderly mother’s wish was to see the remains of her son returned to her for a decent burial.

According to the Independent Catholic News, the Ugandan government is working to bring his remains home. Foreign Affairs State Minister Henry Okello Oryem said the government “is giving its all to have Father Ssenyondo’s remains returned and interred in Uganda.”

Meanwhile, his sister, a member of the Daughters of Mary, said Father Ssenyondo was her mentor and that she will miss a guide in her life. She added, “This strengthens me to get serious in my religious commitment.”


Aware of the Danger

Other sentiments that seemingly were full of pain of the priest’s tragic and untimely departure also appreciated his determination to remain in the mission, although he was fully aware of its danger. “He has died in the line of duty, and we are grateful to God for his gift,” another mourner remarked.

According to Bloomberg News, Guerrero is Mexico’s poorest state after Chiapas, based on gross domestic product per capita, and had the nation’s highest homicide rate in 2013, at 63 per 100,000 people.

Father Victor Manuel Aguilar, vicar general of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa Diocese, said Father Ssenyondo survived an attack a year earlier in his room. The criminal gang left him tied up and stole a car and household items.

In another interview, Father Aguilar also said that Father Ssenyondo had been working in a small parish near the city of Chilapa, 100 miles north of Acapulco, since 2010. He added that the priest had refused to pay an extortion, which was demanded because he was believed to be receiving foreign funds.



Commenting on the tragic manner in which Father Ssenyondo met his death, Father Rogelio Busto Juarez, superior of the Comboni order in Mexico, said, “That is the risk we all run. He knew he could meet his fate among the people with whom he decided to remain.”

When the Register contacted the Ugandan provincial for information, Father Hategek’Imana said he was still in shock over the tragic way in which Father Ssenyondo’s life ended.

But he was quick to note, “I still recognize in this event God’s plan of salvation,” adding that Father Ssenyondo’s death increases the number of the Comboni martyrs who have met death in the line of duty throughout the course of the order’s history.

Father Ssenyondo becomes the third Ugandan Comboni missionary to die in line of duty, thus bringing the total number of Comboni missionaries who have died for their faith to 27 worldwide.

From the order’s headquarters in Rome, Superior General Father Enrique Sánchez wrote that they had received the sad news about Father Ssenyondo.

“Suffering and pain fill our hearts at this moment, and we do not find words to express what we feel in our minds and hearts,” Father Sánchez said.

In the letter he addressed to the provincial of Uganda and the family of Father Ssenyondo, the Comboni superior general said that, for several months, they had followed with attention and anxiety what had happened to the Ugandan missionary.

“We have prayed to the Lord that he may return and resume his work in peace; now, we feel deeply sad and are unable to find an explanation of such a horrible crime,” the letter continued.

The superior general’s letter further explained that, from 1994 to 2005, Father Ssenyondo worked in Comboni missions, but that, more recently, he worked in the Diocese of Chilpancingo, where he was accepted to become part of the diocesan clergy.

The provincial in Uganda said it was around 2007 that Father Ssenyondo requested to be incardinated into the local Church in Mexico. In 2010, he returned to Mexico, this time to work as part of the diocesan clergy. He met his death after celebrating a wedding Mass.


Shared Suffering

In his letter, the Comboni superior general expressed sadness over the cruel and violent way in which many people have lost their lives in Mexico, saying, together with the people of Mexico, “we share our experience of pain and suffering.”

“We are sure that the innocence of these victims cries to heaven for justice,” Father Sánchez said. “We hope that their sacrifice will not remain hidden to the eyes of God.”

Register correspondent Sister Grace Candiru,

of the Missionary Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church,

writes from Kampala, Uganda.