Uganda: remembering Father Mario and Brother Godfrey

 Two Comboni missionaries, Fr Mario Montavani, 84, and Br Godfrey Kiryowa, 29 were killed by Karamojong fighters in Northwest Uganda on August 14. The Missionary News Service has issued this tribute to them by Beth O'Rourke. Fr Mario Mantovani had a special wish: he wanted to attend the canonisation in Rome of the founder of his Missionary Institute, Daniele Comboni, set for October. He had already bought his plane ticket to return to Italy September 5 for the event, so he could also take the opportunity to visit his family in Orzinuovi, in the Brescia province, north Italy. Instead, on August 14, while travelling through the remote north-eastern region of Karamoja, a land to which he dedicated his entire life (he arrived in 1957), he was caught in a furious exchange of fire together with his young 29-year-old confrere Br Godfrey Kiryowa. Sadly, the two Comboni missionaries fell under machine-gun fire during one of many cattle raids conducted on a daily basis by numerous rival Karimojong armed gangs, in the strife-torn land. Br Godfrey died on the spot, struck by three bullets while still at the wheel of their vehicle, while Fr Mario was shot dead by a warrior who stole his shoes. "Fr Mario was an extraordinary person, able to instil optimism in all situations, even in the most difficult", remembers Fr Walter Vidori, his close friend and confrere. Fr Mario, an expert of the Karimojong culture, had written grammar in the local language and was appointed by his superiors to accompany young missionaries in the period of learning the Karimojong language and culture, before starting their pastoral work. The elderly missionary, who would have turned 84 in December, was loved and respected by the population to the point that he spent long periods with them in their rural villages. Young Br Godfrey, was also a professional wood-carver. He made his first religious profession last year and had a character that was out of the ordinary. Godfrey was from a very religious family of the parish community of Kasaala, south-central Uganda, that had managed to transmit to him the core of faith, creating the conditions for the seed of the Word to become an authentic project of life for him, finalised to the 'ad gentes' mission. Karamoja, the land in which the violent crime was committed, is a region afflicted by cattle raids between rival gangs and the phenomenon has heightened in the past years with the flourishing illegal trade of light arms and ammunition. The government of Kampala had promised to stop all this and guarantee the security of the civilians, but so far they have been mere words. The General Superior of the Comboni missionaries, Fr Manuel Augusto Lopes Ferriera, in expressing condolences to the families of the victims remembered that with this last tragic loss, in a period of over twenty years, 13 Comboni Fathers and one Sister have been killed in various circumstances in Uganda. "Their sacrifice is the most eloquent sign of love for the mission of Christ and Ugandan population", commented Fr Lopes Ferriera. Once again we assist a symptomatic tragedy of the scourge of a nation like Uganda, where injustice and violations are daily routine in boundless territories such as Karamoja. We waited, undeniably, for the tragic loss to be reported by some world news broadcast. But it is the holiday period and there is a general atmosphere of distraction and laziness. In the end, at 8pm the Italian TG1 news service gave the sad report. The great majority of other news services world-wide did not even mention their names in passing to the sports or weather columns and scenes of happy vacationers on luxurious beaches. Dead and gone! Here in Italy and abroad, wide coverage was given to the tragic death of a young newly-wed Italian couple that drowned while on vacation in Mexico. Bit it is sad to say, missionaries are not a news 'scoop'. Nevertheless, the lamented sentinels of the Lord that fell in Karamoja, as well as the thousands of missionaries throughout the world, are a perennial symbol of love and a guiding lesson of life for all - believers and none. Source: MISNA

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