Dear brothers and Sisters I welcome to this celebration and I am glad to be joining you who tirelessly support the missionary work of the church as you gather to celebrate this year’s Annual Mill Hill Mission mass.
Our readings today are very appropriate for this mission mass. Our gospel particularly comes the very end of the Gospel of Mark just before Jesus was lifted up to heaven we are told he brought together the eleven and commissioned them to go out to the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation. Baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them all that that he had taught them. So these men and women empowered by the Holy Spirit set out preaching this Good News. The Good News that God loves us, that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves and always ready to help us along the journey of life, that he is a forgiving God, and that if we are to live according to his teachings of love, we shall experience joy and peace both in this life and in the world to come.
And despite great opposition and persecution they persevered. Indeed we may even ask ourselves how did these men in the midst of such opposition manage to push on the spread of the Gospel, it’s because the Lord all through continued to assure them with his presence. Whenever they were not sure the direction to take they sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whenever they were faced with fierce opposition, they sought the power of the Holy Spirit to give them the strength to continue on the mission. With the words of the Lord they set out to preach from the confines of Jerusalem and went on to Asia, Europe and eventually to Africa.
Over the centuries hundreds and hundreds of missionaries have taken on this baton and gone on to preach this good news. And indeed it’s this call of Jesus that inspired the Cardinal Vaughan to found the Mill hill missionaries in 1866 to send out missionaries to preach this good news.
I would say without a doubt that my own faith in the Lord and ultimately my being here today is a result of the missionary preaching and endeavours of the missionaries. The Mill hill missionaries arrived in Uganda in 1895 and they set out on the work of evangelisation especially in the Eastern part of Uganda and in the last 122 years they set up a total of 104 parishes along with these a number of institutions especially schools. My home parish of Budaka was founded by the Mill hill missionaries, by a Fr Kirk in 1901. My late grandfather who remembers him used to tell stories about him. Like many people from our village he could not pronounce the name correctly, but used to refer to him as a Fr. ‘Cake.’
My own journey into Mill Hill has its roots in some indirect way in my father’s experience. My father attended Mill Hill founded secondary schools and was taught by the Mill hill missionaries. Many years later after his school days where long gone, I was born. And as a young boy growing up I used to hear him reminisce a lot of his school days. He used to like to throw around of names of the missionaries that taught him, Fr. JP Whelan, van der Salm, Ben van Binnebeke. When I reached secondary school age, he took me to St. Paul’s College Mbale, a Mill hill founded Secondary school. It’s there that I met a number of Mill hill missionaries.
I felt very inspired by their simplicity, approachability, and their spirit of dedication to their mission. My principal was a Fr. Colin Dempsey RIP. A very prayerful, and simple man dedicated to his duties. He was a man very admirable for his time keeping. We could tell it was exactly 8 o’clock, when in the morning he opened his house door and walked across the field to his office!. He smoked like chimney! I met others such as Fr. Jim Daley whose loud voice would reverberate all around the compound. I also met a Len Wiedemair who was known for his building expertise. A big cross section of the churches in my diocese were built by him.
I felt very inspired, by the fact that these men did great things and yet remained very simple, very close to the people and selfless in their service. There was something mysteriously beautiful about them. So in 1989, with the deepening of my faith in Christ I felt the call to dedicate myself in service of the Lord. And Mill Hill missionaries being my deep inspiration, I applied to join Mill Hill. I was accepted that year and after many years of formation, I was ordained 1998. .
When we look back at the past I realise that we have a lot to thank God for. This may lead us to develop a perception that mission has ended. But far from ending mission continues and certainly the Mill Hill missionary work continues.
And whereas in the past it was about founding Churches and establishing local church communities, through primary evangelisation, nowadays there is a recognition that in most parts of the world dioceses have been established. Hence the focus is to identify within these communities aspects that need to be touched by the liberating message of Christ.
For example in Africa for which I have particular responsibility we are in South Africa where we went in 1998. Here we identified the aspect of reconciliation. As you know through the scourge of apartheid, the country was forcefully divided along racial lines. I was one among the small pioneer group of three that was appointed there in 1998, 4 years after the end of apartheid. The then General Council entrusted to us the mission of paying particular attention to the work of reconciliation in the midst all the other challenges before us.
Three of us sat down and asked ourselves the question; “How do we as a team contribute towards the process of reconciliation in the communities that we are responsible for?” This question was necessary because the church communities we were responsible for where divided along racial lines, either exclusively black communities or white, and this in many ways was repeated throughout the country.
So we said we would organise a series of joint events throughout the year such as parish feast days. On these days we decided we would invite all the communities to be part of one celebration. But the journey to change was very slow, because in the early years when it came to the socialisation at these events, each racial group sat in their own corner!. It was in fact young children who are innocent of any baggage from the past who were playing together!. . With time these barriers have continued to be broken with a recognition that, as St Paul tells us in our second reading, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Greek or slave, we are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the one Father.
In Uganda we work in Kotido Diocese, a Diocese that is home to the Karimojong people, a nomadic tribe who are mainly pastoralists. Due to their nomadic pastoral life style, they have many social problems associated with such a lifestyle. For this our missionaries in collaboration with other organisations have set up programmes to tackle some of these problems, this goes along with the work of faith formation.
In a Kenya we work at the Coast in the Diocese of Malindi, in a place that is predominantly Muslim. In this area the focus is the work of promoting interreligious dialogue. And as recent events in Manchester and other parts of this country have shown us some Muslims have a rather twisted understanding of their faith. People who believe that blowing oneself up and killing many innocent people is a good thing. Hence there is still a great need for a transformation of the heart.
Finally just recently we have returned to South Sudan, a country that for many years has been traumatised by war.
In as much as we celebrate the work of mission that went on in the past, we have also to look to the future to ensure the mission of the Lord continues in obedience to his command, for this we are training many young men for the future tasks. Currently we have total 8 formation centres in Kenya, Uganda, India, Cameroon and the Philippines. At the moment we have slightly over 100 young men at different stages of formation in preparation to be sent for mission. Just about three weeks ago 8 young men were ordained deacons in Nairobi Kenya and God willing in 6 months they will be ordained priests and sent out to different parts of the world to carry out the Lord’s task.
The missionary work that went on in the past and the work that goes on now, would not have been possible without your sacrifices. The missionaries that I referred to in the past did great work to build up the local churches in the countries where they were sent, but this was possible and continues to be possible because you and many others have for many years tirelessly offered your lives to support this missionary work through the raising of funds. This is something many of you have done for many years selflessly without pomp but purely out of fidelity to the Gospel. Your efforts to support the work of mission were and continue to be moreover not just limited to supporting the work of Mill hill but the mission of the entire church through APF. For this we are most grateful. So it’s my prayer that the good Lord may continue to bless you in your lives and reward you in the way that he knows best.
Fr. Andrew Mukulu mhm