The cathedral of Saint Peter in Kampala

Uganda: Fr. Joseph’s continuous search

He has come across Fr. Giussani several times in life. In time, Giussani has become an aid for him to “understand more about Christ and his Church.” A Ugandan priest talks about himself and that time he was stuck in traffic at the end of lockdown.
Paolo Perego

The first day of "reopening" after lockdown. Everyone is stuck in Kampala’s traffic after weeks of being blocked. Everyone has their affairs to do - to go to see relatives, run errands that were not completed before the pandemic. Some perhaps do not have a good reason for being out, but just are for the sake of it. There, stuck in the middle of the road is Fr. Joseph Sserugga, a 44 year-old Ugandan priest, coordinator of the pastoral care of the Archdiocese of Kampala. He too has his affairs to do, "to go and get some books and copies of Traces that Lina, an Italian Memores Domini, had kept for me.” There is, however, too much traffic. He has to postpone. "Ok, but come on Sunday! There are fewer people out and about, and then you can also celebrate Mass at our house," Lina replies.

"The Sunday after I went to their house. They told me who they are, what they do, how they live... what beauty! After Mass, we had lunch together. We talked. I had a completely different idea in mind of what Communion and Liberation was.” The day after, in a message to Lina, he talked about the movement as he had seen it, as "a true gift for the Church through Fr.Giussani.”

"It was a discovery, even if it was not the first time I had met Giussani." As a seminarian, at the end of the nineties, he shared a room with a companion who was beginning to follow the experience of CL. "Two priests of the movement always came to visit him.” Thus, in that room, it was easy for Joseph to find The Religious Sense and The Risk of Education between his hands. "I had also began to spend time with them. We would meet, pray and then meditate on a few pages. It inspired me a lot, but I understood little. I thought that it was not for me, it was too much." They were different times, he says today, and "in a context like the African one it seemed abstract to me." In contrast, when he found a copy of Traces in his room, he read it willingly.

In 2004 he went to Rome to complete his studies. "My life was made up of books and study. It was my only concern.” He remembers that Fr. Giussani’s funeral in February 2005 really struck him. "Cardinal Ratzinger’s homily... But who was that man he was talking about? And then there was the Rimini Meeting. I had heard of it. And I had seen reports of it on the news. It was interesting and I wanted to go there, but I did not know how. Alone, in Rimini... And then I was there to do something else, to study. To understand more about the Church and Christianity."

In 2006 he returned to Kampala, in service of his diocese. "Life as a normal priest, the curia, parishes and the faithful." He had a great passion for reading that often brought him to browse the shelves of the Catholic bookstore in the city. "One day, I found Traces next to a Comboni magazine that I used to buy. I bought it. I then began to buy it more and more often... I liked to read it, I found in it many prompts and deep thoughts useful to my vocation."

The point, he explains, is an inadequacy that one feels. "Here in our country, more and more people are looking for God. The spiritual need is so strong that many are attracted by sects or religious groups of any kind or confession. In recent years, I too have met, and meet, many people who seek God. I have received the gift of being a Christian, of being formed, of being helped to know Christ and Christianity. Now people come to me and ask to know Jesus. They want to see his face. His, not mine. I am a priest, a man. How can I live up to what people are looking for? I also need to understand more about Him and His Church. And I have always tried to do so by studying and reading.”

Read also - Let's wait and see

This became even more true during the lockdown, which hit Uganda last spring as it did the rest of the world. "With so many things being suspended, I had more time. But even the bookstore was closed. I found some old issues of Traces and reread them. And I found people to contact to ask for more, more recent issues. It was Lina who answered me."

The magazine was sent to him via email: "The June issue which had The radiance in your eyes on the cover.” And then inside, between the pages, was the advert for the English edition of Where is God? by Fr. Carrón. "I had to have that book. ‘With all that we are living ... Perhaps there really is something inside that can help us live this crisis,’ I thought to myself." Thus, the next Sunday at Lina's house the book was there too. "I was with them and I was fascinated by them. I was struck by what I did not know about CL, but I was even more impressed by the way they were waiting for me and welcomed me, the air you breathed there, the colors, their friendship, the truth of what I saw."

As soon as he returned home, he flipped through the book. "I was immediately struck, after a few lines, when he speaks of the ‘encounter’, a ‘moment of great grace’. The book is now full of notes that I have written down, page after page. And I want to read more of them." And yet, he says now, it is not enough. "I have also begun another type of book: experience. It is another way of understanding. What you touch with your hand, participate, grow and change." After this encounter, he talks of a different perspective in the relationship with people. "Living the priesthood as a daily experience makes me look at each day as truly new. This friendship has just begun and I want to deepen it. I was told that a person from CL works close to where I live. I hope to meet her and get to know her soon."