The Faith, mission and courage story that is never tired

IMG_1783Evangelism and journalism are difficult missions to accomplish when one considers the faith, courage and sense of mission they take to do them. To evangelize you need to believe there is a God who is calling you to propagate the Good news He has for humankind. Even when it is difficult to do one goes for it or else one decides a priori that there is no such thing as God calling to propagate. To collect and write good news one needs to believe there is always something new to write about or will decide a priori that some events are already tired;  Faith is about postulating that there exists something new and good somewhere to talk or write about even if one does not see it. Along with that belief that something exists beyond our senses given to talk and write about one goes with a sense of mission and courage. It is always hard  to go to something you believe and feel sent to do, see, touch, hear  etc. It is still harder if you already know the hardships involved.

One hundred years ago this year two young Acholi boys Okelo 16 years who later became David and Irwa 14 years who later became [Ermene] Jildo believed and felt called to to talk out what they believed. The circumstance in which they embraced the belief in the Good news was a hard one. A one Antonio cousin of David Okelo had died of fever and hunger in Paimol an Acholi location whose Cultural Leadership was struggling to make sense of the recently imposed Colonial rule; whose medicine men and women were struggling to make sense of the extraordinary and devastating outbreak of diseases that claimed many lives and whose grounds, terrains and neighburhood were unfamiliar.

The faith, calling to propagate both evangelists David Okelo and Jildo Irwa responded to with courage and the one journalists respond to are the same but because the hidden meaning of it is hard to see one is tempted to disbelieve it or to conclude that such event is obsolete.

Introducing his book A profile of two asserted Martyrs of Paimol: Too long in the Dark (1997) Fr Mario Marchetti MCCJ says in these or similar words: “These pages intend to throw light on the facts and [David Okelo and Jildo Irwa] persons who for a short time would go unnoticed in the public eyes. But the voice of Divine wisdom reminds us of a dimension that cannot be erased, that remains along centuries and the history of [Good news] salvation repeating itself”. Then Fr. Marchetti goes on to quote from the Biblical Book of Wisdom: “The souls of the just are in the hands of God, no [hardships] torment will ever touch them anymore…In the eyes of unbelievers they appeared dead and their going is all ruin but they are instead in peace….”.

The bible text quoted by Fr. Marchetti talks about the relevance of living faith, mission and courage in this and the after here life. The heroic story of their lives are tired only in the eyes of the foolish according to the Book of Wisdom.

The martyrs are holy and alive in heavenly peace.

Pilgrims who come to this small jungle area of the East Acholi district of Agago have no doubts about this. They believe that there is unending and peaceful life after here. What assures them even the more is one, that two youths who they know in fact and history are no more here but there in that life and two that such life is attainable.

Because of this strong belief that that life is attainable also by them like it had been by the martyrs they come to learn how Blessed David Okelo and Jildo Irwa attained it. They ask so many questions about it. How old David and Jildo were when they embraced the faith? Who talked to them about the Good news? How long did they spend learning it? Who were their parents, what did they think about their children becoming Christians? What about their clans people what did they think of their children driven away by the new culture of propagating the Good news? Pilgrims ask about their relics or remains to answer questions lingering in their minds about the reality of the whole events of martyrdom.

We all may know that there had been civil war in Uganda and in particular northern Uganda for many years since the introduction of colonial rule, the regime of Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada to our time in the regime of Yoweri K. Museveni. The particular story of the martyrdom of David Okelo and Jildo Irwa and twenty two martyrs of Namugongo have been alive. In the case of the martyrdom of David Okelo and Jildo Irwa the story of their martyrdom became an important literature in the primary schools learning. We are familiar with Fr. Vincenzo Pellegrini’s Acoli macon Chapter XLI published in 1955 by the Gulu Catholic Press.

The story inspired many youths male and female to become priests, nuns, consecrated men, catechists, doctors and nurses who serve in the Catholic Church with dedicated zeal and evangelize their territories and their neighbourhoods. In the periods of civil wars mentioned above the Catholic faithful looked at Blessed Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa as models of faith, mission and courage to bear witness to Christ. The text of their martyrdom became an object of prayer, meditation and reflection in the displacement camps. So much so that those who experienced favour of God attributed to the intercession of the two martyrs in he faces of hardships and dangers of their lives asked the then Pope now Saint John Paul II to beatify catechists Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa. The Pope did so in October 2002.

How real is the story today?

Seventy six more catechists killed just between 1986 and 2007

We are many Catholic priests, nuns, religious brothers and catechists today in northern Uganda. We are all convinced that we are greatly sustained in our faith, calling and strength by our two blessed catechists who passed on the same to our grand parents. But to answer better the above question one needs to know what happened here during the civil wars. Without belief and courage like those of catechists David Okelo and Jildo Irwa commitment to the faith would have totally waned. In many instances the armed combatants seemed to deliberately target the Christian believers who they occasionally accused of spreading religion considered the “opium” of the people, refusing to receive a new anointing into the Lord’s resistance army or joining the sacred altar of the God Father of Severino Lukoya. In fact to date we have on record 76 catechists killed by the combatants. These catechists were and are still the ones who on a daily basis consoled berieved families whose members were and are killed in the villages, and displacement camps.

Priest believes the martyrs saved his index

One priest who was shot in an ambush by armed people is Fr. John Peter Olum great devotee to the Blessed David and Jildo. He testifies: “Had it not been for the intercession of the martyred catechists David and Jildo my index finger would have been amputated. When I saw that my wrist was falling to the ground after it was torn apart by bullet, I collected its pieces in attempt to join it back to the arm. When I saw it did not hold I realized it was dismembered and I cried aloud: Jesus I need this finger to hold the Eucharist. Please give it back to me”. And a few moments later I saw many Catholic faithful around me. One helped me hold to my shattered wrist another pulled out of my car Mrs Albina the dead wife of the catechist who was hit by the same bullet. Albina’s husband catechist Aldo Okot was taken alive into the bushed and killed. The third passenger Mr. Martin Lacen was killed instantly by another bullet”. Fr. John Peter Olum’s index was saved at the Catholic Church’s St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor with the help of a consecrated Brother Elio Croce Mccj and Dr. Tom who both  survived the most dangerous and contagious hemorrhagic ebola with the same heroism of Blessed Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa.

Doctors and nurses at St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital make choice like the martyrs did

Even with medical doctors and nurses the untiring story of faith, mission and courage lives on. To survive the dangers of war and contagious diseases our Doctors and nurses draw from the faith and courage of Blessed David Okelo and Jildo Irwa. Like the two catechists chose to go to continue the mission of catechists Antonio who died in 1916 in Paimol Doctors Cyprian Opira, Martin Ogwang, Odong Emmington, Tom Okelo and countless nurses chose to renounce their better paid jobs and positions in the Country’s highly reputable Mulago Hospital in the capital city Kampala to become part of the faith and mission of our martyrs of the rural north. Their unrelenting commitment here today is yet a demonstration that the story of the martyrs is not a tired one.

Most Rev John Baptist Odama thinks the martyrs give him wisdom

The virtue of Hope practiced by our martyrs continues to inspire people across religious denominations. Our catechists strongly believed there is life eternal. When Okelo David and Jildo Irwa came to ask the priest Fr. Cesare Gambaretto permission to go to Paimol to continue the mission of Antonio the priest asked them if they do not fear to be killed in Paimol. It was David who answered: if they kill us we will go to heaven. Antonio is already there (P. M. Marchetti p. 26)- This sort of unwavering hope and faith is found in many people today. When at the height of insurgency the Most Rev John Baptist Odama Archbishop of Gulu was asked if he did not fear the rebels would kill him. He said that he answered the military: “then I will go to heaven and you and the rebels will remain orphans because I your father would be dead”. Powerful. Is n’t it?. Archbishop John Baptist Odama keeps the bones of the martyrs in his private chapel where he spends all Thursdays asking the martyrs to speak to him for all the missions ahead. This is real. The prelate spends whole Thursdays talking with the martyrs in the belief that from heaven they guide his mission to success. All his Thursdays are blocked for that purpose. The femur and skull bones of the martyrs are there with him all this time in the urns.

Sacrificing to see faith, mission zeal and courage grow in the people today

Four great structures have since sprung up in honour of the martyred catechists David Okelo and Jildo. The Church of Blessed David and Jildo here below

IMG_6406  Rector's residence

the priests’ residence here below

two dormitories of female and male foot pilgrims,

the great arches of reconciliation also known as theforgive our trespasses arches here below

The "Firgive our trespasses Arches"

and the open air altar.IMG_2997






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