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from issue no. 12 - 2008

A meeting with Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala

Through the sects they aim to destroy the Tradition


An interview with the Archbishop Emeritus of Kampala, “I personally believe that there is a systematic attack by foreign forces on the Church. They want to destroy the traditional Church, indeed I would say the traditional Churches. Even the historic Protestant Churches and the Anglican have the same problem. The new sects are attacking them too. For the past thirty years. Before they weren’t here, there was talk of them in Kenya, but not here”


Interview with Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala by Gianni Valente


“Ex Africa lux”, said Pope Wojtyla in one of his lightning and dazzling remarks. Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, primate emeritus of Uganda, is like an old lion who has seen a great many things. He knows the old problems that still torment his country and the entire continent. His wisdom and shrewd realism make him immune to the rhetoric of professional enthusiasm, but also to the virus of resignation and self-pity. 30Days met him in Kampala on the hill of Nsabya, in the residence that lodged Pope Paul VI on his historic trip to Uganda in 1969. Forty years later, another successor of Peter is about to make his first pastoral visit to African soil. While the Vatican is preparing an extraordinary synod of bishops dedicated to the expectations, the needs and hopes of the African Churches and societies.

Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala in front of the plaque recording the historic visit 
to Uganda of Paul VI in 1969

Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala in front of the plaque recording the historic visit to Uganda of Paul VI in 1969

Your Eminence, what do you think of the moment your country is going through?
EMMANUEL WAMALA: The situation is still not stable here in Uganda. In the north final agreement has not yet been reached between the government and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. There is a truce, but negotiations are at a standstill and the ultimatums launched by the government for the rebels to lay down their arms and sign the peace treaty have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile the people displaced from the northern regions are still living in refugee camps, looked after by the international bodies. They would like to return to their land devastated by war, to live in peace, rebuild their homes, begin cultivating their fields again. But at the moment the refugees are just slowly marching in the direction of the places they fled from, where everything remains in a state of abandonment. We hope and pray that things may change. On the other hand, even in the rest of the country, our chronic problems such as poverty and disease still persist. Yet people are optimistic. The government is trying to do what is possible in the situation as it stands.
The latest massacre by the Lord’s Resistance Army, forty poor people cut to bits in a Catholic church, took place in Congo. Uganda borders that country, where the latest, terrible African crisis broke out. Why can’t peace be found in those parts?
WAMALA: There are several causes. We think that there is interference from outside powers. Interests. How come the people fighting always have so many weapons? From whom do they get them? The Africans don’t have them. They come from abroad. The Congo has vast natural wealth, just think of the minerals. The same is true for Sudan. There is immense wealth in poor countries, which stay poor. There are outside interests that see to it that all this continues.
Are you saying that there’s profit in keeping the wounds of Africa open...
WAMALA: The basic approach towards Africa remains the colonialist one: that is the logic that always comes back when it’s a question of us. And while we remain poor, this approach will perpetuate itself. The Western ruling classes try at most to find backing from local leaders to watch over their interests.
Museveni changed the Constitution in order to ensure re-election. On that occasion you expressed criticism of the business.
WAMALA: He follows the ideas of many others. The first is Fidel Castro, for whom Museveni has great admiration. The second is Gaddafi, who has been here several times. He bestowed this advice on Museveni: those who have taken power by force must not leave it democratically. In his relations with the Church there’s a certain indifference, not hostility. Let’s say: he’s a “mild dictator”.
Yet you yourself have repeatedly warned against the rhetoric on Africa as a neglected continent, and urged the putting aside of the mechanisms of self-pity.
WAMALA: Africa must take the problems of Africa into its own hands, take responsibility for them. I hope that the forthcoming meetings of SECAM [Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, ed.], and the synod of bishops dedicated to Africa, serve to study our problems and find the way. We can’t always believe that our problems will get solved by others: English, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Americans ... That’s how the new colonialism gets instigated.
Is there the danger of forms of neo-colonialism in the relations with NGOs and international aid agencies?
WAMALA: Some of these organizations always regard us as minors. They don’t help us so that sooner or later we can start doing things by ourselves. Perhaps also because this mechanism guarantees them the opportunity to have work here. They give money, but then they take the same money away. Here we have and continue to have critical situations, we need help, and so the work of non-governmental organizations is useful and commendable, but then, over time, these organizations must take the direction of handing their structures over to the locals, so that local agents continue the work without depending on Europe or the respective countries of origin.
Congolese fleeing to the refugee camp of Ishasha, near the Ugandan border  [© Reuters/Contrasto]

Congolese fleeing to the refugee camp of Ishasha, near the Ugandan border [© Reuters/Contrasto]

Now some Catholic organizations engaged in the fight against AIDS in Uganda are likely to face difficulties, because the international bodies finance only projects that base the whole strategy on prevention, on the use and mass distribution of condoms. What do you think?
WAMALA: I heard of condoms for the first time in the ’fifties, when I was studying in Rome. There was no AIDS then. So the condom was not invented to combat AIDS. Now, they want to sell them and spread them, even taking AIDS as justification ...
But even authoritative cardinals have said that one shouldn’t be too rigid on this. If the use of condoms can help save lives, the principle of the lesser evil prevails...
WAMALA: The debate continues on this point, even in the Church. The personages you refer to have weight. I believe that one day it will lead to a conclusion, more or less acceptable. But for the moment we here have said: as a Church we cannot encourage the use of condoms, aligning ourselves with those who say that AIDS can only be fought in this way, because staking everything on the mass distribution of condoms has the practical effect of encouraging and increasing sexual promiscuity. Carpet distribution of condoms, for example distributing them in schools, does not solve the problem, and is likely to increase it. That seems to me a fact, not a question of a priori positions, of issues of moral principle. It’s simply that we’ve seen that the strategy is an inadequate response to the problem. It’s been found that in many countries, where everything was focused on the mass distribution of condoms, AIDS has increased. And then the doctors tell us that using condoms is not one hundred per cent sure to prevent infection. A certain percentage of risk always remains.
You continue to play an intense pastoral role. How do you view the situation of the Ugandan Church?
WAMALA: The Catholic Church here is very vibrant, growing in number and also in a shared sensus fidei. The laity are full of energy and enthusiasm, vocations are increasing every year. We’re happy as we are. On the other hand, we have these sects that are upsetting people very much. Young people especially, those who are not very strong in the faith, who do not have deep roots, many are joining the sects.
What is their attraction? Many say that in large part it’s also their economic strength...
WAMALA: There’s no doubt of that. A new Church can be born through the isolated initiative of some individual, but here new Churches are springing up in every corner, especially in the cities. They couldn’t do so without help from outside.
In short, there are people who are investing a lot.
WAMALA: I personally believe that there is a systematic attack by foreign forces on the Church. They want to destroy the traditional Church, indeed I would say the traditional Churches. Even the historic Protestant Churches and the Anglican have the same problem. The new sects are attacking them too.
But when did the phenomenon start?
WAMALA: I would say three decades ago. Before they weren’t here, there was talk of them in Kenya, but not here. Amin had abolished every other Church and religion except Catholicism, Islam and Anglicanism. Museveni has proclaimed freedom of religion. That’s a good thing, and can’t be put in question. Since then the new sects have arrived. They are now beginning to have a great influence on the leaders of nations all over the world, and vice versa. Here in Africa the phenomenon is worrying because it is as if the faith was still young. We have a large number of young people who aren’t familiar with the catechism.
Children praying in a church in Gulu [© Wpn/Grazia Neri]

Children praying in a church in Gulu [© Wpn/Grazia Neri]

Coming here we also saw a church with the sign “New Apostolic Church”...
WAMALA: They use names that seem like those of the Catholic Church. Names more or less biblical.
But what are the reasons for their success?
WAMALA: Research on that point would be useful. I think, as we have already said, that one factor is without doubt economic. They help, give scholarships, through them there’s the possibility of traveling. And then they offer a doctrine with very few moral and liturgical obligations.
But is that all? Can’t one learn anything from their example?
WAMALA: They don’t have rigid bureaucratic structures, as there are also in the Anglican Church. And people are not attracted to a bureaucratic Church. The Gospel must be announced in simple and straightforward fashion. To witness the love of Jesus for everyone.
In 2009, as you mentioned earlier, many representatives of the local Catholic Churches in Africa will gather in Rome for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Africa. Then there is also an important meeting of SECAM. Isn’t there a danger of multiplying meetings that don’t really change anything?
WAMALA: Why do you say that? We must first of all ask ourselves what is the point of a Synod. I think that the Synod is first of all a communal gathering. Simply meeting together is a good and useful thing for strengthening fellowship among the bishops. And then there is always some important point that gets studied.
In your opinion, on what should attention be focused?
WAMALA: On justice and peace, given the situation in Africa today. Those are the prerequisites. Proclamation is hindered if there is no peace and no justice.
Nowadays some say that the Catholic Church is too Eurocentric.
WAMALA: For that reason also there is point in the Churches of the different continents having their own synod, to discuss their own problems.
The “African” Synod will be held in Rome. But why not in Africa?
WAMALA: In truth, we bishops would have liked the first African Synod – of 1995 – to have been held in Africa. But then we saw that all the other continental synods were held in Rome, where there are suitable facilities. To hold the synod in Africa would basically have been a further sign of the side-lining of the continent. It would have been like saying: discuss your business among yourselves, they’re not things that affect us. So, at least for a while, the problems of Africa will be brought to Rome, and not be swept aside as local problems, but recognized as problems that touch the heart of the Church.
Pilgrimage to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda in Namugongo [© Leadership/Nigrizia]

Pilgrimage to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda in Namugongo [© Leadership/Nigrizia]

Now attention in the Church often seems to be focused on themes of sexual morality, family ethics, bioethics. How do these issues look when seen from Africa?
WAMALA: There are countries that have legalized same-sex marriages. That is not an African problem. But we see more and more an influence from abroad that is also undermining family ties in Africa. Through the media, things that are taking place in Europe are also here at the same time. Who knows, it might be an issue to be addressed at the Synod.
Here, in the house where we’re talking, Paul VI was a guest during his visit to Uganda.
WAMALA: Uganda has been independent since 1962. Paul VI came in 1969. I remember him well, at that time I was a chaplain at the University.
What should be rescued from that time?
WAMALA: We must follow the documents of the Council. Not just study them theoretically, but re-adopt and apply them. Many aspects have not yet been put into practice.
In a few weeks, the Pope will be in Africa. What do you hope and what is expected?
WAMALA: I don’t know if he will speak to the whole of Africa. And I’m certainly not the one to give advice to the Holy Father. He must encourage his bishops and all the brethren. As Jesus asked Peter to do. He may comment on the affairs of the world, or do other things. But his task is to confirm the brethren in the faith. He must do just that, and he’s coming for that.


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