Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Deacon Lutakome Nsubuga leads mission to Africa
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the July 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
It isn’t every day that a deacon, in the midst of seminary studies, finds time to organize several of his fellow students into a mission team to visit Africa, plus coordinate the fund-raising necessary to finance the trip. But that’s what 31-year-old Deacon Lutakome Nsubuga – “Luta” to just about everyone – did this spring in the midst of his graduate studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
During the months leading up to his ordination as a deacon for the Spokane Diocese last April, he reflected on the central place of service in the vocation of the deacon. He decided to see if he could find a way to be of service to people in his native continent of Africa. What were the needs? How much would it cost to respond in effective ways? Where would the money come from?
He discussed and discerned the question with classmates and other deacons, as well as a priest from Slovakia. It was clear that the principle role of the deacon was one of service. “I said, ‘We could go to Africa,’ and that included this other theme of solidarity with the church in Africa, which is encouraged in a letter the U.S. bishops issued some years ago.”
Deacon Luta is originally from Uganda, though he has lived in the United States since 2000. Under his guidance, the group decided to visit Uganda and Kenya with a brief side trip to the Congo. “My work was to determine where we would go, what we would do when we got there, and how we would do it. I also contacted the bishops of the dioceses we would visit and the priests in the parishes where we would provide assistance.”
The men wanted to work on the projects as a group. One of the primary concerns was funding. Deacon Luta’s initial estimate: $20,000.
Deacon Luta Nsubuga (fourth from left) of the Spokane Diocese worked with a team of other students from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to put together a mission/aid trip to Africa. Here the group takes as break at the source of the Nile River. From left are Deacon John Peter Thomas (Diocese of Camden, N.J.), Father Jan Dolny (Diocese of Kocise, Slovakia), Deacons Cory Campeaux (Diocese of Lafayette, La.), Luta, and Jared Suire (Lafayette), and Brother Luke Prejean (also from Lafayette).
“I was scared,” he said. “There is no way we can come up with this much money. So I said, ‘Look, this is the reality.’ So we cut where we could, and we narrowed it down, and still we came up with a total needed of $17,000.”
He knew the group was aiming high, but said, “Let us aim high. If we make the target, fine and very good. If we go below the target, that’s okay also. God will help us. We may even go beyond the target. Whatever we have is what we will have.’”
In February 2008 they began contacting potential benefactors for the projects. Despite the economic downturn, people responded generously. When all was said and done, they managed to raise $22,000, all in gifts, without grants. “We were deeply touched,” he said. The men paid for their own airfares and for vehicle rentals and gas, so all the money raised was used for the projects themselves.
The group decided on several projects to carry out in a three-week visit, May 15-June 7.
“Our main focus was evangelization,” he said, directed toward youth of three or four parishes in various regions of Uganda. The people in the southern part of Uganda are relatively well off, said Deacon Luta, “but in the north there has been a war now for over 20 years, between Sudan and Uganda. There is no fighting right now, even though the rebel leader is still at large and hiding someplace in the bush” in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Kenya, they worked with another two parishes, as well as an orphanage.
Children lead praying the Our Father in Zeu Village in the Nebbi Diocese.
In Uganda, Deacon Luta’s group bought three new desktop computers, with power backup, for parish use. They included typing tutorial software on the computers. In the U.S. they purchased and brought with them books and videos about saints, children’s books, and books explaining the Mass.
Another part of the project for the group was to donate some basic, single-gear bicycles to the parishes. They purchased 22 bicycles in Uganda for use by a seminary and by catechists in rural areas. Many parts of Uganda remain inaccessible by car, he said. The catechists know the area well, however, and although priests often cannot travel to remote areas, the catechists bring the Eucharist and teach.
A third project helped widowed women and single mothers. “Most of the widows’ husbands died of HIV-AIDS,” Deacon Luta said. “They make some money by growing some small crops and by raising a few animals. So when we went there we donated over 40 piglets. Pigs are very easy to raise, and so it’s quick money.” The pigs reproduce quickly, and there is a strong and steady market for pork in the area.
Father Paul Olum (left) is pastor of a parish serving more than 3,000 families. The parish faced closure by the government until financial assistance enabled construction of a pit latrine. (IR photos courtesy of Deacon Luta Nsubuga)
A “huge, huge” parish serving 3,000 families in northwestern Uganda was facing closure, along with its mission parishes, because it lacked a latrine. The government threatened closure over sanitation issues. Deacon Luta’s group worked with the pastor, giving him money to construct a reusable latrine with a concrete lining and walls between stalls for privacy. The project was massive – it had to be set far into the ground, dug by hand.
The orphanage in Kenya, founded by a Dominican priest, received a donation to purchase backpacks for the children and a tabernacle for the chapel, where Mass is celebrated each morning at 6:30.
Finally, Deacon Luta’s group donated $2,500 to each of two seminaries in Uganda.
“There are so many seminarians in Uganda, so many,” he said. “In both seminaries they sleep in a very bad place. It’s pathetic. You could not believe. So they are trying to build a sort of dormitory for the seminarians.” The situation of a seminary in northern Uganda is further complicated by the war.
Deacon Luta’s group was also deeply touched by the generosity of the African people who are themselves very poor. “One night in a parish,” he said, “an old lady, very poor, brought us a live chicken, a hen, as a gift. This was a chicken that was still laying eggs, so it was a profound thing to give us this chicken. So I accepted this gift, and I gave it to one of my friends to hold, and the chicken got away from him and went running outside in the dark of night. I chased after it and finally was able to catch it. This was very funny. We gave the chicken to the people who prepared the meals in the priest’s kitchen, and they butchered it and prepared it for us to eat.”
One Sunday, in the parish where the mission team helped construct the pit latrine, something remarkable happened.
“The bishop was to come to meet us and to thank us, and it so happened that this was a Sunday the priest had scheduled for baptisms.” The newly ordained deacons had not yet had the opportunity to baptize. Together with the Slovakian priest, the men baptized 173 babies during Mass. “It was amazing,” he said. “The church was packed! People were outside, too. When the bishop heard we were coming, he said, ‘Oh, we are going to put those deacons to work.’ It was very remarkable. The faith that the people showed us, for me was one of the things that really stands out among all of the experiences we had.”
Looking back on his group’s three-week mission to Africa, Deacon Luta is still amazed. “God was with us from the beginning to the end,” he said. “The people in Uganda were very hospitable, and sincerely happy in their hearts. Wherever we went, whatever we did, people were very happy. I was deeply touched by the faith the people showed, even though they were living in abject poverty. My friends and I felt as part of the community, we felt welcome.”