Uganda: Vatican envoy meets former child soldiers

 Former child soldiers, religious and lay representatives of the archdiocese of Gulu, patients and hospital staff all met Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, during his visit to the northern Ugandan city yesterday. The cardinal visited two centres for children who used to serve in the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army): Gusco (Gulu Save the Children Organisation) and 'World Vision'. One young mother, explained that she had given birth to four children while serving in the ranks of the LRA, but that she had been obliged to leave two behind when she escaped. The co-ordinator of Gusco told the cardinal the centre has taken in 2,000 children over the last two years, while there are around 15 new arrivals each day. Over 70 priests, missionaries and representatives of the local clergy then met with Cardinal Martino in the home of the archbishop of Gulu, Monsignor John-Baptist Odama. He said: "When you help your brothers and sisters in need, such as those who re-emerge from the forest, you are truly evangelising". Earlier he met with lay people, who described the terrible conditions in the camps for displaced people and told him that the Ugandan army also abuses minors by recruiting them into its ranks and training them at a young age. Monsignor Paul Bakyenga, archbishop of Mbarara, said he had asked to meet the Head of State to discuss the war in the north, but that he was still waiting to be called. Cardinal Martino ended the meeting by inviting everyone not to wait for peace from others, but "to carry out gestures of peace and teach others to do the same". Accompanied by the apostolic nuncio, Pierre Christophe and the archbishops of Gulu and Mbarara, the cardinal then went to the hospital in Lachor founded by the deceased Corti couple, whose compound offers nightly shelter to thousands of people fleeing rebel attacks on their villages: around 5,000 a night until two weeks ago, while following an upsurge in violence by the rebels they are not thought to number 10,000. The cardinal prayed at the graves of Piero and Lucille Corti, Doctor Matthew Lukwiya and 12 nurses who died during a violent Ebola epidemic in 2000. Speaking to 80 or so hospital staff, he said: "You are the ones caring for the suffering body of Christ". Introducing the cardinal to the children who had come to spend the night in Lachor, Monsignor Odama said: "The Pope sent him here to tell you that he is sad about the conflict in north Uganda". "What time do you go to bed?" the cardinal asked the children, telling them he would have preferred to see them at home and to pray for peace and for those with the power to establish it. Finally the cardinal returned to the home of the archbishop of Gulu, where he was spending the night, before setting off for Kalongo and Kitgum today. Source: MISNA

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