Two Meeting Point women break rocks in the query.

Now We Want Everything

We had met them at the Rimini Meeting in Italy last year, and have come to know the women of Kireka and the pain in their stories and the look that brought them to Baptism. This time, we went to see them at home, in the heart of Africa...
Paolo Perego

Sonia opens the gate at the sound of the horn with a hand salute, like a soldier, and a smile unusual for that pose. "This is one of my Kireka women," Rose says, saluting her as she parks the Toyota in the courtyard. "These are the 'paper' offices; the real Meeting Point is at Naguru and Kireka." Rose Busingye opens the door of her office: stacks of papers, a computer, and a photo of Fr. Giussani hanging behind the chair. There are photos of a history begun as charity work in 1992, and which became an NGO in 2000, with the birth of places to accommodate HIV-positive women in the city slums.

Everything is new; the building has been standing only for a few years. You can get a breath of air on the patio, looking at the African sky, the green of Uganda, the panorama of Kampala.

The half-covered face of a girl appears at the door, almost taking your breath away. She speaks to Rose, and draws back the veil to reveal her eye all bruised and swollen, and a deep cut on her cheek. It was done by a boy outside school with a club full of nails. There was a strike, and she went to ask if the school was opening, but he hit her, along with her friend, and also robbed her. Her name is Winnie. Rose looks at her; there are no words, she can only embrace her. You tell yourself: "Welcome to Uganda!"

Two boys come out of an office: Caesar and Kenneth. School has ended and during the vacation they give Rose a hand with the records for the Distance Adoptions, entering data, forms, and records. Perhaps next year they will attend the university, though they haven't yet decided what to study. These two were in that crowd which listened to Fr. Carrón talking in Kireka in June of 2007. He spoke of happiness, of desire, and of dissatisfaction: "What are you truly lacking?" Accompanying them that day were also Luigi, Deo, and Fredy–five boys around 20 years old, sharing a difficult past, living in an open sewer of mud and iron sheets that is the slum of Kireka. They also have in common the encounter with the nurse, Rose, who for some years had been revolutionizing the slum by caring for sick women and sending their children to school. This is not new to our readers. Some of them came to the Rimini Meeting last year. So we went to see at close hand what is happening in this corner of the world, in the heart of Africa.

CROCODILES AND MOUNTAINEERS. Jinja is 35 miles from Kampala, on the banks of the Nile. Two Japanese tourists visiting the source of the Nile and the first waterfall of the river look on, incredulous at the group of Ugandans on an outing, sitting on the bank. They are singing Italian songs. The group is made up of 90 third-year high school students in Luigi Giussani School who left this morning from Kampala, in four small buses. They are the eldest in the school that opened two years ago in Kireka, just below the Meeting Point further down the hill. Next year, they will inaugurate the fourth year, bringing the school to its goal of setting up a normal four-year structure (within three years). "I had wanted this for a long time," said Rose. "We were sending the kids sponsored by distance adoptions to local schools, including Catholic ones. But to have a school like this, in Kireka… This piece of land was available, so we began to build the walls."

Now the building stands out on the hill with an immense lawn in front. Here and there are the various constructions, such as the hall of the kindergarten and the kitchen where the Meeting Point women prepare lunch for 300 secondary school children as well as those of the primary school. Fredy and Deo teach here, even though they have not yet graduated from the university–the former teaches economics and the latter literature. They too have gone on the field trip to the Nile, accompanying the children. There are also other young adults of the community, such as the "Kireka Alpini," so called because of their passion for the Alpine songs that they heard the first time they met Rose. This group grew even more after Julián Carrón's visit, forming quite a respectable choir. They are standing with their backs to the river singing "La Montanara" while a crocodile climbs from the river onto a nearby island.

The trip to Jinja at the source of the Nile.

It's surreal, unimaginable. Those five boys singing, looking into each others' eyes: Fredy, Deo, Kenneth, Caesar, and Luigi, 21 years old, who was taken in by Aunty Rose, as a child, with no one to care for him. He was sent to school through a distance adoption, like many here. Luigi remembers well the cries of his mother, in that bus full of people on fire, cries that would never leave his head. He was left an orphan of a war that ended only in 2005 and that filled the villages around Gulu, Kaberamaido, Kitgum, and Pader with blood. "I was living in a tunnel, with no way out, waiting only to die. Then they brought me to Rose, with those women who were sick but happy." They were all reborn in that place. "I asked myself if there would ever be anything good in my life," says Luigi. Fredy, Deo, Kenneth, and Caesar all have similar stories. And so do the seven who, after the meeting with Carrón, ran to Rose and asked to be baptized, "because they had understood that in order to follow him, they had to belong like he did to what he belonged to," explained Rose.
You listen to them and together you sing songs as you shelter in the shade of a mango tree. And you just have to look around to understand that what strikes you and fills you is not just this, but it includes all those faces: Barbara, Jacqueline, Vincent, Moses, Onispro, Patrick, Matthew, and the other young people of the CL Movement you met that first day in Kampala during the evening of songs.

THE MEASURE OF REALITY. They speak of how they are living, studying, and working, and of how the School of Community is becoming more and more a support for their faith. These are faces in which you realize that the judgment of reality coincides with the experience they are living; there is no separation. Christ is the measure of reality; they are all taken by Him and changed. Matthew was a "rebel," someone who killed people. Years later, he told about his trauma in the school benches. He used to watch the schools burning after he had set fire to them. "I was baptized last year," he smiles with pride. I turn toward Rose, "A priest friend of mine explained that Baptism makes carte blanche of all your evil, so that what you have done no longer exists." Rose replies, "Because the justice of God is not a scale, but two hands with uplifted palms, that beg." The heart begs–my heart and the hearts of all those who jump into that tourist barge that takes us on a trip on the Nile, and the heart of Caesar, too, with his phosphorescent lifejacket, who wants to dive in but is unable to swim, and that of Patrick, all six feet of him, the son of one of the most active, "crazy" women of Kireka, Judith, or rather, "Ronaldo," as her friends call her, because she likes soccer and is the coach of the female Meeting Point team. She is a refugee from the north, with four children by different fathers, HIV-positive like the 2,000 others who frequent the centers at Kireka and Naguru (which is on another hill of Kampala). With a fisherman's vest, sunglasses, and an old reflex camera, she mimics the journalists taking photographs of the group of women who come with us to visit the stone quarry, the great "hole" in the hill amid the mud houses.

NEW CREATURES. Here, they break rocks under the sun, reducing them to builders' aggregate, with their bare hands and a small hammer, stone by stone. "But look, they are happy, under the sun at midday breaking rocks and singing…" says Rose. And when the noisy groups of women arrive, they all begin to celebrate. Even from the edge of the quarry, further up, where the huts seem on the point of sliding down, all the people look on.

A class at the Luigi Giussani primary school.

A child appears among the heaps of rocks. Teddy, Joyce, and Jacqueline go to investigate. He's not one of theirs and he's underfed. They stop him and speak to him, showing an interest in him–they who, until a few years ago, wanted only to die of despair, as they recount in song, dramatizing their stories with drums and dried pumpkins that sound like maracas: "I felt awful and then I met Rose, the Meeting Point, the volunteers; they told me: you are valuable. Now I am in peace," one of them summarizes the lives of them all, from the former rebel to the widow… Not "now I'm fine," but, "I am in peace"–as if to say that what they needed was not only medicine, or two meals a day. With all these goings on, the slum has changed its appearance. You come to think that it is great to walk like this, among the mud and the black rivulets that run between the mass of huts.
These are people reborn, who change before your eyes, like the young people sitting on the banks of the Nile singing Alpine songs. Among them is Mauro, a Memor Domini, like Rose. He works in Uganda for AVSI, in a center for continuing education that runs refresher courses for teachers and NGO workers. "This is a place where we propose Fr. Giussani's educative idea, beginning with The Risk of Education. It was conceived of by Giovanna Orlandi and Clara Broggi, two Memores who were living with Rose, also in Uganda working for AVSI. Giovanna died before the work was completed in 2009," Mauro told us the following day, as we ambled along the corridors of the center, still smelling of the recent coat of paint.

Certainly, this place is rich in charitable works, but it is evident that the presence of the Memores, of Lucia, Corrado, Marco, Lina, and the others, is something more. Community life, work, and prayer... Fredy, Luigi, and others have begun to live together in an apartment following their example, and the example put forth in the exhibition on the Benedictine monks at the Rimini Meeting. "They sensed that in that way, in the monks' way of life, there was the possibility to go deeper into the experience they had begun," said Rose. "Once they had changed, they began to change those who were around them." And many asked for Baptism, ten of them per year since that June of 2007 when Fr. Carrón came to meet them. In January of this year, 48 people were baptized.

Among these was Vincent, who, in Jinja, cannot resist getting up from the grass and joining the choir, even though he is not very much in tune, the others say. But he gets placed in the choir ranks, and his story explains why. He is a refugee from the north, still a child when he came to Kireka. The Meeting Point was paying for his schooling, but his stepmother sent him back to the village, telling Rose that he was dead. He reappeared two years later. One day, they called Rose to go to school to see that boy who is a "devil." Rose recognized him, exclaiming, "You are valuable, you know!" And Vincent gave in.

Sonia, from the Meeting Point, took him into her home, and he forged ahead with his studies. Last January, he was baptized. The owners of Sonia's house belong to a Protestant sect, so Vincent had to leave. The women of Kireka came to his aid: they offered him a room in a hut, and began to care for him like a child, together. "It's clear; I can see it: someone embraced me and goes on doing it, even through the School of Community," the boy says. Today, he is 19 years old. "Once, Rose told me that I am surrounded by angels, and that you never go wrong looking for Him. Now I know that it is true. All this love I see… It's the hundredfold, or maybe just a foretaste; and this tenderness that I feel toward me challenged me continually to look for Him, more and more. I want everything... Everything." And there is room for the desire for a bicycle to ride to school. "But then I ask myself if it will be enough for me, enough for my heart…"

"What is enough? I, too, am living in the dark. I thought that going to school would get me out of the life I was living," says Fredy, recalling his arrival at the Meeting Point in 2005. "And, after my Baptism, after having given the name of Jesus to what I had met, everything began to have a meaning, a new taste." Including Fr. Giussani's teaching, of which he says, "Now we can say that there is at least one school in Uganda."

Deo conducts rehearsals at the Meeting Point in Kireka.

The same goes for Deo: "Working here is a deepening of the encounter I have had, of my faith–a continuous comparison with the School of Community. I understand that the students I have before me are not made by me, but the One who makes me makes them, too. And you can only hope that they will discover Him." Rose looks at them all, these "kids" of hers, as they conduct the songs after lunch on the Nile. "It's really true. The problem is your relationship with Jesus," she says, "not doing things, building up works, or even educating. Fr. Giussani told me so before sending me back to Uganda after a period in Italy. He said that the only problem should be my relationship with Christ, here where I am. 'All that will happen are crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, the fruit of an overabundance, a fullness in that relationship.' And what happened after, you see, is a miracle. I did not do anything… I told you. I was there when Carrón was talking and I didn't realize what was happening. And now I am the one looking at Him working in those faces. And I follow Him as I can, even on my hands and knees if necessary."

NOSTALGIA FOR HIM. The following day, on the steps of a church in central Kampala, you see these kids, about 40 of them, who have just filled the Movement's weekly Mass with songs, and they carry on outside. We have been singing together for five days, all over the place. You would like to go on forever, moved by what has happened. "Someone took my nothingness," many of them told me. Yet, now you see them filled. "Epitalà, look at the sky, at a time when everything brings confusion, I am sorry when you are not here…"–they all sing these words written by Deo.

When you have a plane to catch a few hours later, your lasting impression is not African sickness that you see when looking at these kids. What you see is a real face, which keeps coming back to you even 4,000 miles away from home: "Here I am. I'm the one you're looking for."