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Uganda: AIDS to self-destruction.

Most people are aware of the AIDS disaster in central and southern Africa, the origins of which go back over a hundred years to the promiscuity and sodomite behaviour of African kings and rulers. (Remember Saint Charles Lwanga and companions.) The Rev. Patterson tells us about his visit to Uganda. Editor

The "fasten seat belt" sign was on, and the pilot was reducing power, bringing us down to where we were now skimming the glistening surface of Lake Victoria on our final approach to Entebbe airport, gateway to Churchill's "Pearl of Africa," Uganda.

Welcome to Uganda

Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that I, as a student and lover of history, would find myself on the same glide path approaching the same airport as Commander Yoni Netanyahu and his gallant anti-terrorists had done on that memorable day in Jewish history, July 4, 1976. Their breathtaking and masterful rescue of the Jews being held hostage at this same airport by Idi Amin was a rescue that would go down in history, but it would also cost Commander Yoni his life. The Entebbe expedition (called "Operation Thunderbolt") was a reminder to the world of Israel's determination to protect the lives of her people. "Never again," said Golda Meir, "will Israel stand idly by and allow her people to be held hostage by anyone anywhere in the world."

"Welcome to Uganda and Entebbe airport" came the greeting from the Sabena Airlines stewardess. We had arrived--Dr. Anne Day, her husband John (a student at Wycliffe College, Toronto), our photographer David McLimont, my wife Joan, and myself. Here we were, all five of us, thrilled beyond description at the opportunity that now lay ahead of us to minister far and wide across this part of East Africa. This, however, as we soon discovered, was to be for us a ministry with a difference, because we had not arrived in the "Pearl of Africa" but rather in the centre of a medical holocaust, the like of which the human race had never know--AIDS, or as the Ugandans call it, "SLIM."

In inviting me'to minister in his Diocese of Namerembe, Bishop Misaeri Kauman had been very explicit, and as we were soon to discover, not without reason. "Please do not accept my invitation to come here to Uganda," he had written, "unless you are prepared to address the subject of AIDS."

In keeping with the terms of Bishop Kauman s invitation, I had, prior to our departure from Canada, been in touch with the World Health Organization's representatives in Geneva, Switzerland, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Ottawa. Now, having arrived in Uganda, it seemed to me that the first thing we should do would be to meet with their Ugandan representative, based in Entebbe. I assigned this task to Dr. Anne Day and her husband John. Their report back to me later in the day was not a happy one.

They told us, "Uganda is not going to survive," Anne said. "There is no way it can. At the present time, 42% of the patients in their largest hospital in the capital of Kampala are dying of AIDS and 36% in the only other hospital in the city." We were soon to learn at first hand the reason for such pessimism.

There will he no Uganda

Ministering in one clergy conference after another--the main reason for our coming--we came to see that the vast majority of the clergy were spending most of their time burying the victims of AIDS, and mini tering to their loved ones. As one priest said, "There is hardly a family that has not lost someone to the disease." Sad to say, the clergy's and bishop's families were also included in that assessment.

Two days later, we were the guests of honour of Bishop Kauman at the consecration of one of his clergy as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Lowero. It was there that we met President Yoweri Museveni and learned of the great burden he was carrying for his country. In addressing over 8000 people seated in and standing outside of St. Paul's Namerembe Cathedral, he repeated the message that he had been proclaiming throughout the nation. "We must start behaving ourselves," he said d with great conviction, "or there will be no Uganda. AIDS is decimating our country." There it was. The President himself, speaking of the horror of AIDS, and doing so in, of all places, a consecration service for a new bishop.

But this was only the beginning. Church services in Uganda are known to be somewhat long, but this particular service proved to be something of a marathon-- five hours. It was longer than usual, not just because it was a consecration service, but also because included in its program were anthems sung by seven children's choirs--seven anthems which they themselves had composed, five of which had the same theme, that of a heartrending plea addressed to their parents, "Mommie and Daddy, PLEASE BE GOOD and don't leave us as orphans." We were soon to learn that 24,000 children in one small area would not have their pleas heard because their parents had all died of AIDS, and left them as orphans in a situation that is repeated again and again across the country. The CTV program on the life and death of Philly Lutayya, Uganda's Elvis Presley, portrayed this condition with devastating accuracy as the film crew flew over one village after another, all of which were now ghost towns, the populations of which had all di ed of AIDS or fled for fear they would. But, in Uganda, there is no sanctuary--no place to flee to--no village, town, or city free of AIDS.

A young AIDS victim

At the conclusion of a clergy conference some days later--the first of seven we would conduct over the next three weeks--one of the Anglican priests came to me and asked if I would be open to visiting a young man who was dying of AIDS. I assured him I was. An hour or so later, we paid a visit to the young man's home out in the country. We were greeted by his mother and father at the door of their tiny home, and taken inside to a small bedroom where their son lay on the floor on a very thin mattress. One look told me he was suffering from full-blown AIDS. Purple lesions covered his body, which by now had been reduced to skin and bones. Without a doubt, though he was only in his early twenties, he was at death's door.

After a short visit, and a time of prayer, we adjourned to the living room for a visit with his mom and dad. It was then that we heard the whole story.

Some years earlier, their son, a young teenager, left home and ventured into the nearby capital city of Kampala where, in their words, "he got involved in loose living." This was a term we would hear again and again in the weeks that lay ahead. Uganda, being what it is--the centre of AIDS in East Africa--it was inevitable that he would contract the disease. He did, and having done so, made his way home to die in the company of his family. Overcome with grief, the parents could not continue telling their story, and so, with their permission, their parish priest shared it with us.

"When the boy arrived home," he said, "his parents, fearful for their own

lives, and not knowing what to do for him, placed him on a mat in the back shed-a shed without light and ventilation. His father took his meals out to him three times a day until such a time as the local Archdeacon, a family friend, heard what was going on and asked permission to take the father's place, and to feed the boy his meals each day. As one might expect, the Archdeacon spent many an hour talking with him and ministering to his needs, all of which resulted in his committing his life to Christ. The father was so ashamed by the Archdeacon's loving care of his son that one day, he made his way out to the shed, picked up his son, carried him into the house, and there placed him in the tiny bedroom where we met him.

As I heard this story, I couldn't help but wonder how often it was being repeated in the homes across this AIDS-ravished land.

The horns of a dilemma

Toward the end of our month-long ministry, Bishop Kauman asked my wife Joan and me if we would go with him to visit a bereaved family on the outskirts of Kampala. We were of course quite open to his invitation. Early that evening as we were travelling to the home, the Bishop said in a very loving and caring way, "The man who has died, and whose family we will be visiting was a very prominent businessman in Kampala, and a very faithful member of our cathedral. In recent times, he got involved in loose living, contracted AIDS and died of the same.

On arriving at the home of the deceased, we found up to two hundred people standing and sitting on the front lawn. The Bishop was greeted by a member of the family, we were introduced, and together with the Bishop, were escorted into the house. The scene which confronted us will be forever engraved on our minds.

Hanging on the living room wall was a wedding picture. The happy bride and groom made a charming couple. He was as handsome as she was beautiful. On the floor immediately under the wedding picture lay both of their caskets. As the Bishop told us later, the man's wife had become suspicious of her husband's life style, and was convinced that he was being unfaithful to her. She did what any Ugandan wife would have done under similar circumstances--she fled for her life-going to London, England, there to live with her son, who now stood solemnly beside us as we took in this horrifying scene. She had fled too late. Shortly after her arrival in England, she discovered she had contracted AIDS from her husband, and resolved that she would return to him, her home, and the land she dearly loved, there to die. She did so shortly after her return. Indeed, the two of them died within forty-eight hours of each other, and now were to be buried together in a common grave. They had become the 34th and 35th members of the Cat hedral to die of AIDS in the last three months.

As the World Health Organization representative in Entebbe pointed out, many, many Ugandan wives are today caught on the horns of a dilemma. In suspecting their husbands have been, or are being, unfaithful, they know they should flee for their lives, but to whom can they turn, where can they go for refuge, on what will they live, and how will they care for their children? It is clearly a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation. Not able to flee, they, like their husbands, endure the indescribable horror of dying from AIDS, and leave behind them their heartbroken children, who will now join the tens of thousands of other orphans found across Uganda.

Marney Patterson has been an Anglican clergyman since 1956. He is the founder and director of Invitation to Life Ministries, and the author of five books. Married in 1949, Marney and his wife, Joan, have two sons, two daughters and ten grandchildren. Catholic Insight reviewed his book, The Decline and Fall of the Anglican Church in Canada, in the March 2000 issue.
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Author:Patterson, Dr. Marney
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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