Think your diocese has problems? Worried about a priest shortage in your region? It helps me regain perspective to occasionally compare the realities of two dioceses of similar size. One in the US like San Diego. One in the global south like Lira, Uganda.
San Diego: Great weather, nice beach.
Lira: Had the Lord’s Resistance Army. Just emerging from 20 year civil war. Really bad roads. No beach.
Let’s run the numbers:
San Diego: Catholic population is just under 1 million distributed over 8,852 square miles
99 parishes, 14 missions
200 diocesan and religious priests
246 sisters, 20 brothers
2 Catholic universities
Lira: Catholic population is just over 1 million distributed over 4,646 square miles
18 parishes divided into 1,000 “chapels”
64 diocesan and religious priests
1,200 lay catechists who care for the 1,000 “chapels”
“Throughout Uganda catechists play a crucial role. In almost every parish of the country and at almost any time of day you can see a group of the faithful gathered around a catechist – one group might be praying together, another sitting in the shade, discussing a phrase from the Holy Scriptures; elsewhere perhaps a group of married couples, including many mothers carrying little babies in their arms, all learning together how to make a success of raising a Christian family and giving their children a Catholic education.
There are 14,000 catechists in Uganda today, 1,000 of them in the Diocese of Lira. The Tabernacle in the chapel of the catechists' formation house is made in the shape of a traditional African grain store, for Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life. While only the priest can bring Christ to the faithful in the Blessed Eucharist, the catechist can still nourish the people with the Word of God, and there are countless people in the Diocese of Lira who are waiting for this bread.
Of course, the catechists in Lira need to have a deep formation in order to be able to serve fruitfully. The long and bloody conflict, from 1988 to 2008, between the rebels of the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, and the Ugandan army have left deep scars in this diocese, as in others. Many people were unable to attend school during this time, and, as a result, many men and women today have barely enough basic education to be able to take part in the necessary training courses.
The participants themselves are asked to make a modest contribution, for example by contributing a few cupfuls of cornmeal, beans and a little firewood. They must also bring their own plate, a blanket, a ballpoint pen, an exercise book, a Bible, a prayer book and a rosary. Everything else the diocese has to provide.”
Take a look at this video of the annual Mass in memory of the Ugandan Martyrs. Makes you want to dance along . . .