One topic Ugandans expect Pope Francis to address in his upcoming visit to the country is the push by certain Western powers to enforce the use of contraception as a central means of fighting AIDS. “A good portion of Ugandans do think that the best approach in the fight against AIDS is that of abstinence and fidelity. Abstain and be faithful,” Fr. Herman-Joseph Kalungi told journalists Oct. 30. However, despite the strong stance many Ugandans take in favor of sexual abstinence and monogamy, the priest said that “there is external pressure on the government.” Since Uganda is an impoverished country that depends on foreign aid, a big problem they have is that when the funds come in, “the donor influences the decisions.” “Although many Ugandans think that abstinence and fidelity are the only sure guarantee, the only sure means of stopping the spread of AIDS, still there is a lot of pressure from outside to promote the use of condoms,” he said. “Also in the area of reproductive health, to promote the use of contraceptives and birth control. This is mainly a problem from outside.” Fr. Kalungi is a priest from the Ugandan diocese of Masaka, and is currently studying in Rome. He met with journalists in order to give some background on the country before Pope Francis’ visit during his Nov. 25-30 trip to Africa. In an Oct. 30 interview with CNA, the priest said that the push for contraception is “a question of some Western forces imposing some customs, imposing some ways of living that are contrary to our culture.” The spread of the HIV virus has been a serious problem in Uganda since the infection rate for HIV/AIDS skyrocketed in the 1980s-1990s. The country has since worked to find an effective means of both educating people on the risks, and putting a stop to the spread of the virus. Fr. Kalungi said that the country has made headway, and has succeeded in containing the virus more in recent years. However, while the promotion of abstinence and marital fidelity have been widely accepted, “there are a lot of immoral forces out there that, in a way is inexplicable to us, want to destroy the moral fiber of the country.” “That is why they promote contraception, that’s why they promote homosexuality,” he said, explaining that the same approach is often taken when it comes to the problems of hunger and illness. “Instead of helping us to grow more food, instead of helping us to establish maybe factories or to be able to get medicines…they will suggest you have less children so you don’t have the problem of hunger.” Though a clear explanation for the pressure is lacking, “I think it’s almost evident that there are some forces out there that directly or indirectly put pressure on the Ugandan society to adopt customs and ways of living that are contrary to the moral fiber that has characterized our people until now,” the priest explained. He said that when Pope Francis visits the country in just a few weeks’ time, Ugandans expect that he will address the issue, adding that “those that ought to listen are the frontiers of the country.” Other challenges that currently affect Ugandan society are a lack of political unity and stability, he told journalists. After gaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda fell into a series of intermittent conflicts, the most recent of which is the rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The conflicts have continued because the young, diverse country was never able to fully establish peace and stability after it gained independence, Fr. Kalungi said. Though Uganda is experiencing a period of general peace right now, political instability is still an issue. The country is also facing hunger, illness, and uncontrolled infections coupled with a lack of medical assistance, the priest added. Education has also been a big concern in the country, Fr. Kalungi said, since a large portion of the population doesn’t have the opportunity to go to school. In light of these issues, the Church has played a major role contributing to the sector of education and medical services. Until 15 years ago when the government implemented a universal primary education system, the majority of schools were run either by the Catholic or Anglican churches. According to Fr. Kalungi, 84 percent of Ugandans are Christian, 42 percent of whom are Catholic. Though Catholics maintain good relations with Protestant denominations, the priest said there are some small issues due to some Pentecostals who try to convince Catholics to leave the Church. Still, the priest told CNA that excitement among the country’s Catholics is soaring high ahead of the Pope’s visit. “Ugandans are certainly happy to have the Pope visiting them; I should say it is the third time that a Pope is visiting them and…we have longed to have this opportunity again.” Pope Francis’ Nov. 27-29 visit to Uganda follows that of Pope Paul VI — the first Pope to visit country — in 1969, and St. John Paul II in 1993. “It’s a great blessing and I think Ugandans are convinced that the very fact that the Pope coming will certainly bring a difference,” he said, adding that the trip isn’t just for Catholics, but will also bring hope and joy “to the heart of every Ugandan…also Anglicans and other Protestants and Muslims.” Though the country is currently in peace, the priest said the people always need to be encouraged to work for it, and expressed his hope that Pope Francis will exhort everyone to make a continuous effort for peace, and “to reassure us that there is hope and things can be better.” Fr. Kalungi also raised concerns surrounding some of the topics Francis brought up in his recent environmental encyclical “Laudato Si.” Among the most urgent environmental concerns for Uganda are deforestation and the loss of the vegetation that covers the country, he said. Poverty is largely to blame for deforestation, Fr. Kalungi said, since the local population in the affected areas frequently cut down trees for firewood, whereas other, wealthier countries have electricity. This is the main reason that Fr. Kalungi hopes Pope Francis will speak about development in the country, as a way to attain peace and to alleviate poverty. “In all (the) different ways to fight the question of poverty, I think that’s where the emphasis should be. Once poverty is fought it will be easier to protect the environment.” Ugandans are also a hardworking and self-sacrificing people that have a lot of hope and joy, Fr. Kalungi said, and expressed his hope that Pope Francis sees this in the people when he comes. “Even in the midst of greatest problems Ugandans have been able to go on…when one visits the different trading centers of the villages in the rural areas one sees the youth really working hard to lift themselves out of poverty and I think this is a great resource.” Ugandans are also a spiritual people who “have a sense of God” inside them, he said, and refer everything to him. “They are open to the message of the Gospel which they would like to put in practice, in spite our difficulties, our defects and our wretchedness.”
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