Sisters minister to war victims in northern Uganda

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Holy Cross Sisters are welcomed by the mothers and aunties of St. Jude Children’s Home, Gulu, Uganda, and by Father Michael Lawrence Komakec, vicar general of the Gulu Archdiocese. Pictured are Sisters Lilian Briege Awino, CSC, second from left; Grace Kitinisa, CSC, fifth from left; and Mary Louise Wahler, CSC, second from right.

Holy Cross Sisters are welcomed by the mothers and aunties of St. Jude Children’s Home, Gulu, Uganda, and by Father Michael Lawrence Komakec, vicar general of the Gulu Archdiocese. Pictured are Sisters Lilian Briege Awino, CSC, second from left; Grace Kitinisa, CSC, fifth from left; and Mary Louise Wahler, CSC, second from right.

Koch Goma Subcounty in northern Uganda is one of many areas of central Africa that has been terrorized for the past 20 years by the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Thousands of Ugandans were murdered or raped, and hundreds of children were abducted for service in the LRA. Many fled the Koch Goma region, creating a massive refugee crisis and a devastating economic, social and educational impact in the area.

Today, as the LRA threat has subsided in this region, many Ugandans are beginning to return to their villages and communities. The current generation of residents grew up in Internally Displaced Person camps where there was abuse, violence and mistreatment, and no formal work training. The victims of decades of LRA atrocities—a majority of them women and children—are traumatized and in need of basic health services, counseling, education, training and spiritual support to rebuild their lives.

“The Archbishop (John Baptist Odama of the Archdiocese of Gulu) requested our presence to bring hope to the people who are just now returning to their lands following this long war [between the LRA and Ugandan military forces]. This war has set the region back tremendously with significant poverty, violence and lack of basic health care,” noted Sister Lilian Briege Awino, CSC, who is serving in the archdiocese alongside Holy Cross Sisters Beatrice Wangatia and Grace Kitinisa.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross have had a presence in Uganda, in both health care and education ministries, for more than 50 years. Now a new outreach ministry has been born to respond to the needs in the northern part of the country.

The sisters are currently housed at St. Jude Children’s Home, a place for children who are abandoned, neglected, physically challenged and HIV positive, and have nowhere else to go. The center accommodates 89 children. Holy Cross sisters are helping at their temporary residence by transporting children in wheelchairs, telling them stories, praying together, singing and dancing.

Responding to people’s needs

“We are working on providing a counseling center where the people can meet and share their experiences,” stated Sister Lilian. “Most of the youth are traumatized and as such need proper counseling and follow up for they have lost hope in life.”

Sister Beatrice is working to bring healing to those suffering from trauma by offering to counsel families and children from the primary schools, performing social work, and interacting with youth, teaching them skills to utilize available resources to create income-generating projects. She also prays with the people and participates in other spiritual activities.

The sisters also are reaching out to the single women of Koch Goma. With the help of a grant, Sister Lilian plans to move forward with a skills-based sewing initiative designed to train single women to sew and embroider, empowering to them support themselves. She also teaches a business study and commerce course two days a week at the Koch Goma senior secondary school.

Sister Grace works with the Catholic Women’s Association (CWA) in the area, and frequently participates with them in faith sharing and planning. She also has taught the CWA women to make rosaries for the parish.

Challenges facing the sisters’ ministries

The sisters are continuing to assess challenges as they look to the future of their ministry with the people. For example, home visitation, the current method of outreach, reveals needs. “Each week when we visit, we find kids who have died due to sickness or a mother who has lost her child during birth,” said Sister Lilian.

Additionally, to meet the educational, skills building and training needs of the community, the Koch Goma Central Primary School is in need of reconstruction due to damage from the war and storms.

Hope for the future

The sisters hope to bring healing to the people of Koch Goma, eradicate poverty and help empower them to be economically, socially and spiritually stable. Noted Sister Lilian, “[We] hope to help them develop a spirit of trust in each other, thus valuing human life and strengthening right relationships.” The residents of the area deeply appreciate the sisters’ presence. On August 18, people from 38 small chapels gathered for a eucharistic celebration and a reception in their honor. Sister Lilian reflected, “It’s my prayer that God will continue to give us the Spirit to be able to be open and finish the good work he has begun in us all.”

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