Francis on Nov. 28 prayed with and blessed Winnie Nasumba, a 24-year-old university student who was born with HIV, during a rally with young people that took place at an old airstrip in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The pontiff also made several references to “Christian marriage” in a speech that he gave during the event.
“There is one particular puddle which can be frightening to young people who want to grow in their friendship with Christ,” said Francis, according to a text of the speech the Vatican posted to its website. “It is the fear of failing in our commitment to love, and above all, failing in that great and lofty ideal which is Christian marriage. You may be afraid of failing to be a good wife and mother, failing to be a good husband and father.”
“God’s gift of love is at the heart of Christian marriage, not the costly parties which often obscure the deep spiritual meaning of this day of joyful celebration with family and friends,” he added.
Francis earlier in the day celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Catholic Shrine of the Martyrs of Namugongo, which honors a group of Catholics and Anglicans who were executed in the 19th century because they refused to renounce their faith.
He referenced them during his speech at the Kampala youth rally.
“What would the Uganda martyrs say about the misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness,” asked Francis, according to a text the Vatican posted to its website. “What would be the Uganda martyrs’ reaction to the growth of greed and corruption in our midst? Surely they would appeal to you to be model Christians, confident that your love of Christ, your fidelity to the Gospel, and your wise use of your God-given gifts can only enrich, purify and elevate the life of this country. They continue to show you the way.”
Francis on Nov. 27 met with President Yoweri Museveni and other Ugandan officials.
Museveni last year signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts faced life in prison. A text of Francis’ remarks the Vatican posted to its website indicates he did not discuss the statute with Museveni.
NGO bill ‘unanimously’ approved before papal visit
Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
The U.S. after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act cut aid to his country and imposed a travel ban against officials responsible for anti-LGBT and other human rights abuses in the country.
The Constitutional Court of Uganda in August 2014 struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality, but lawmakers subsequently vowed to reintroduce the measure.
Agence France-Presse reported that Ugandan lawmakers on Nov. 27 “unanimously” approved a bill that seeks to regulate non-governmental organizations that operate in the country. Ugandan LGBT rights activists with whom the Washington Blade has previously spoken said this measure would further hinder their advocacy efforts.
Francis ‘missed an opportunity’
Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade on Monday that he “wasn’t holding out much” hope for Francis’ visit to his country because he “has generally been wishy washy about the issue of rights of LGBT.”
“At the same time I feel he missed an opportunity to be specific about his stand on the issue, by publicly discussing the continued persecution of LGBT people in Uganda,” said Onziema. “If he’s not done it publicly in Uganda, I don’t see him doing so anywhere else.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBT Catholics, also expressed disappointment over Francis’ trip to Uganda.
“Pope Francis usually is much more courageous and direct in confronting controversial issues, especially when bishops have acted poorly, as the Ugandan bishops have done in regard to ignoring the human rights of LGBT people,” DeBernardo told the Blade on Sunday in an email.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics, has repeatedly called upon Francis to speak out against laws that criminalize homosexuality. She told the Blade on Monday that it “was disappointing” that the pontiff “did not address the harm done to so many by laws criminalizing homosexuality, in Africa and elsewhere, or clearly condemn the violence directed towards LGBT people in many African countries.”
“A statement from the pope supporting the dignity and value of LGBT lives would have made a huge difference globally,” said Duddy-Burke.
New Ways Ministry and other groups have welcomed the Vatican’s more moderate tone towards homosexuality and marriage rights for same-sex couples since Francis became pope in 2013. A long-awaited report on the family that Catholic bishops released in October concludes, among other things, that unions between gays and lesbians are not “even remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.”
Francis’ trip to Uganda coincided with his trip to Africa that included visits to neighboring Kenya and the Central African Republic.