Priest-rich but cash poor diocese thrives

By Father Bill Pomerleau

Pastor, Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield

Editor’s note: Fr. Bill Pomerleau was recently on a “working vacation” in East Africa, where he is reporting on places and people with ties to the Diocese of Springfield.

KYENJOJO, Uganda —  Sunday, June 26

A few years ago, the Katoosa Catholic Parish here participated in a local pastoral planning process.

When the consultations were over, the Diocese of Fort Portal decided that the parish would include 46, rather than 63, mission stations.

The Katoosa parish (known by the village in which it is located, rather than by its patron saint), has a structure common to most of rural Africa. 

The main parish church, which is off the main road between the Ugandan capital of Kampala and the western city of Fort Portal, usually schedules two Sunday Masses: one in the Rutooro language of the predominant local Tooro ethnic group, and another in English for the convenience of parishioners of other ethnic groups.

Most Sundays, the parish’s two priests each celebrate Sunday Mass at one of the parish’s eight “sub parishes,” or mission churches. On weekdays, the priests hear confessions and celebrate the liturgy at “stations,” or chapels where Sunday Mass is celebrated a few days after the Lord’s Day.

Under the system, most parishioners are able to attend Mass once a month.  Catechists, trained lay ministers who perform many of the duties of permanent deacons or professional lay ministers in the United States, lead Eucharistic services in the sub parishes and their affiliated stations the other three weeks of the month.

“Is it true that everybody who works in a parish in America is paid?” asked Francis Akiiki, transitional deacon from Katoosa who was scheduled to be ordained a priest in August.

I explained that secretaries, organists and some directors of religious education are commonly paid positions in U.S. parishes.  On the other hand, larger African parishes commonly have modestly paid cooks, cleaners and gatekeepers.

Because last Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Katoosa Parish celebrated a single Sunday liturgy, with a Eucharistic procession around the parish grounds after Mass.  With three priests, two deacons and eight alb-clad catechists surrounding the altar, the liturgy had a particularly festive air.

Corpus Christi procession

On Monday, I traveled to Fort Portal to meet with Bishop Robert Muhiirwa , the diocesan ordinary of Father Adolph Busubozi, a chaplain at Baystate Medical Center and Father John Tibakinirwa, a former hospital chaplain Springfield now ministering in Boston.

Bishop Muhiirwa’s sprawling residence and office, on a separate property from Fort Portal’s cathedral and chancery, houses ten people.  With plenty of vocations, the diocese has assigned a relatively large percentage of its priests to diocesan ministry.

Fort Portal Bishop Robert

Support for priests working in charitable, educational or similar ministries on the diocesan level sometimes comes from government funding of foreign donors.

Parish priests receive no set salaries, and are dependent on modest gifts from parishioners or family resources. Money is the reason why Fort Portal is only slowly, if steadily, divided its vast rural parishes in more pastorally manageable sizes.

Scene outside Fort Portal