Two significant trips marked the last month of my life, and reminded me, once again, of the significance of “planting seeds” on the long journey of peace and integral ecology.
Trip One: Uganda March 4-15: for a BLI Uganda board meeting, and to host a group of Notre Dame students on Spring Break. Part of the Common Good Initiative of theCenter for Social Concerns, the trip brought together nine graduate students from various departments (and one professor) to explore “New Norms of Development and the Ecology of the Common Good in Uganda.” We visited various initiatives and programs, and spent two days at BLI, planting over 250 trees at both the Kiumpa and Nandere campuses of BLI. As always, the pictures only tell part of the story….
Trip Two: Rome April 3-6: For a conference on “Path of Nonviolence: Towards a Culture of Peace.” Organized by the the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development and Pax Christi International, the two day conference brought together church leaders, theologians and practitioners from around the world to deepen the church’s understanding and commitment to nonviolence and peace. BothPax Christiand the National Catholic Reporterhave covered the conference in more detail (click on the hyperlinks to read more). Again, pictures tell only part of the story of what was arguably a significant conversation, for which I am grateful to have been part of.
In all these and other events I find myself to be part of, I am reminded of the slow journey to peace and integral ecology – and encouraged by Oscar Romero’s “a step along the way” and that “we plant seeds that we hope one day will grow.”
“If we live we live for the Lord, and if we die we die for the Lord. And so, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8
On February 7th, I had the privilege of offering a mass for my mother, Magdalene Namatovu. Below is the homily I gave in her honor at the Geddes Hall Chapel on Notre Dame campus.
On the Sunday evening of January 6th— Epiphany
Sunday– mom passed away quietly at her home in Malube, Uganda at a ripe age of
93. When I received the news of her passing, I felt just like the siblings
Martha and Mary, who sent a message to God about the sickness of their brother
Lazarus. In my case, the message was: “The one you love is dead!”
Mother was loved by God. And Mother loved God. Therefore,
mother lives and lives on. For as Jesus tells Martha “Anyone who is loved by God lives, even if she dies.” Whoever
believes, which is to say–whoever loves God–will never die.
We are grateful for mom’s life, for her love, and most significantly for God’s love for her, and for how that love was shared with us in so many wonderful ways.
We gather to celebrate and remember that love. We do so with
gratitude for the life of resurrection that mom now shares. If mom enjoys the
life of resurrection now, it is because even here, she already shared in that
resurrection. She lived already resurrected.
Mom’s life was not easy. I am all the more grateful for the
resurrection and the hope with which it was filled – a hope that was manifested
through mom’s radiant joy, warm friendship, her determination and her selfless
dedication for the well-being of her family. Much of this hope grew out of her firm
but undramatic faith.
She grew up in a staunch Catholic family. Her father,
Achilleo, the chief of Nkulungwe was one of the first Catholics in this part of
Rwanda, and his dad had given the land on which the Catholic mission of Rwaza
was built. Mom was baptized a week after she was born, receiving the name
Magdalene – after the Mary of Magdala (who, witnessed the crucifixion, burial
and resurrection according to John). The original meaning of Magdala is “tower”.
This would become true of this Magdalene’s life as she became
a “tower” of love, care and selfless service, already at a young age. For even
though mom’s early years were spent in this protected environment and with all
the trappings of a Catholic chief’s family, it would soon take a dramatic turn
when, at the age of 14, mom’s mother, Anna, died. The first born of her family,
mother was taken out of school, to look after her six younger siblings. Thus
began her journey of heightened responsibility.
Mom’s life took another dramatic turn, when one young man
named Anthony, one of the many people working on Achilleo’s estate, asked for
her hand in marriage. As mother would tell the story, at first she thought this
was a joke. Anthony was not only from a poor background, he was much older, and
most importantly he was not a Christian. Anthony said that there was not much
he could do about his age. But about being poor, he assured her that he could
go to Uganda and work (the British had set up coffee plantations in Uganda, and
these were the years of the coffee boom) and there he could earn money to buy
the cows needed for the dowry. About his not being a Christian, he wanted to
know what he needed to do to become one. He was not only read to become Catholic,
mostly importantly, he assured her that he would love and take care of her for
the rest of her life. The love won her over, but not without Achilleo’s
encouragement, and the intervention of the missionaries! A story for another
As soon as they got married, Anthony, my dad, decided to
bring his bride to Uganda, much to the chagrin of mom’s family. The transition
was hard particularly for mother. She had grown up in a chief’s family, now
they had to start literally from nothing, in a foreign land. Through a lot of hard work, they established
themselves, and built up their home. A number of things kept them going. First,
their love for each other (growing up I remember witnessing something like an
ongoing romance between mom and dad every evening…); Secondly, it was their
faith (every Sunday, walking 7 miles to the mission for mass; As we kids, we
were raised at the intersection of mother’s settled Catholicism, and dad’s
evangelical fervor of a newly converted Catholic ). The third gift that kept
them going, I think, are the blessings that they received in this new place:
first the gift of 7 children; and then the gift of warm friendships. Mom and
dad’s house soon became a hub for many goings and coming. Every year, around
Easter or Christmas, they hosted the entire village at our home.
But then in 1972, dad
unexpectedly passed. Mother not only became a young widow, but a single parent,
left with the unenviable task of raising seven kids. I was 12, and in grade 5.
This was during the very difficult and turbulent years of the Idi Amin
dictatorship. Somehow, through her hard
work, incredible resourcefulness and tough love, mother not only managed to
keep our family together, but to raise us, and send us to school, with the help
of many friends. Two of us, my older brother Joseph, and then me, would end up joining
the seminary and eventually becoming priests.
In the 1980s mother’s life took another dramatic and painful
turn, when her home was attacked and ransacked. She herself narrowly survived
being killed by the rebels. She was to spend seven painful years of ‘exile’
living in the city (Kampala) until 1987,
when she returned to Malube, after the rebels took over power, to start
rebuilding her destroyed home.
In 2003, she was diagnosed with lupus, a condition that she had
till her passing, which resulted in a lot of joint pain, and left her–in her
later years–unable to walk. Throughout
this time however, mother’s zest for life, her joy and generous spirit never
waned. Neither did her sense of humor and sense of gratitude!
I could go on and on… These are some of the events that
marked mom’s life, events through which God’s love, protection and providence
were not only manifested, but generously shared with us–her children,
grandchildren, neighbors and friends. If you did not know mother’s story, you
would not tell for her warm hospitality, cheerfulness and generosity the
personal challenges she went through.
We are grateful for her life, for her love, and the glimpses
of “resurrection” that shone through her life, in the midst of so many
As a family we are particularly grateful that she has indeed
been Magdalene: a “tower” of love, care and stability all these years.
We are also grateful that on December 27th, ten days before her passing, we all
gathered: her remaining five children, her more than 50 grand and great
grandchildren, and family friends to celebrate her life. We had mass in her
honor, sang and danced for her, and gave her gifts. In what we now recognize as
her farewell to us, she was full of joy, as she embra,ed and blessed each one
“Alive or dead, we belong to God,” St. Paul reminds us. In
her life here on earth and, even now, mom belongs to God. And for this we are
extremely grateful, and with much love and gratitude, offer her life back to
Eternal life grant unto her Oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine unto her. May her soul and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. AMEN
Below are some photos from a farewell gathering with my mother on December 27th, 2018.
The Tablet, a Catholic, British magazine, recently published an article titled “50 Minds that Matter.” I am honoured to share that my name was on that list!
The Tablet introduced their list with the following statement:
“Who do you think is the living Catholic doing the most to change the way we imagine ourselves and understand the world? Here is our selection of 50 men and women who are making waves and recalibrating disciplines, and adding some Catholic salt to the contemporary cultural soup.”
I hope that you are enjoying this season of preparation and reflection as we await the Joys of Christmas. We here at Bethany Land Institute are reflecting on the genuine goodness of God, and how He has opened so many new partnerships for us this year. We are pleased to announce that through two generous grants, we have secured funding for much of Phase I of our construction, allowing us to break ground in 2019 for two dormitories and classrooms. This will enable us to open our doors to our first cohort of students in 2020, and target our formal launch in 2021.
We wish to thank each of you for your continued support for the vision and mission of BLI. We are especially thankful for the funding that you provide for the staff, who have been working tirelessly this year to prepare the campus. They have made tremendous progress, including cultivation of the land, which not only produces all of their food, but with enough extra to sell to the local community. With their proceeds from those sales, they have started the Savings and Credit Co-op, which will allow them to eventually purchase their own farms. In addition, they have planted and dispersed to the local area over 5000 trees on the mission to reforest the land. I invite you to visit our updated websiteto see photos of their progress.
We look forward to the deepening work of BLI in the coming year, and value your partnership and support to continue our mission. You may make an online donation through our websitewww.bethanylandinstitute.orgor send a check to the address below. If you would like to speak with our Development Coordinator about ways that you can make an impact at BLI, please reach out to her at the contact number below, or through our website.
Wishing you and your family the blessings of Christmas,
It has been a while since my last update (July). Overall things have been well with a number of highlights on various fronts:
1.Family: summer saw me spending time with mother in the village at Malube, and with family & kids (nieces, nephews, grandnieces/nephews) at Bethany House. Pictures capture some of the moments:
2.Bethany Land Institute: News of a grant from the Italian Bishops Conference (beginning of summer) gave a good jump start for fundraising efforts for the construction of phase one of the campus – and hopefully for a 2019 official launch. Summer also saw me spending time “on the ground (land)” working with staff, board and other meetings. Again, pictures tell the story better than words:
In the meantime, on my sabbatical research project, Who Are My People, jointly funded by the Luce Fellowship in Theology and Contending Modernities, I finished up with the interviews over the summer, and am in the process drafting the five chapters of the book. See my “Excess of Love in the Oasis of Peace,” a blog entry following my visit to Maggy Barankitse’s “Oasis of Peace.”
The following report, to be presented at the ATS Luce Fellowship meeting in Pittsburg early next month, offers a good overview of the research project.