It has been a dramatic and difficult year, not just for us in Uganda but for the whole world. The COVID-19 pandemic has disastrously affected us, medically, spiritually and financially. Our income has gone down by over 60%. We would like to share with you our experiences of this pandemic as well as the efforts of the Archdiocese of Tororo in continuing our ministry.
Although at the beginning, the number of infections, illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19 in Tororo was small compared to other parts of the world, the last few months have experienced an exponential growth. And given the poor state of our medical facilities, the simple conditions of our homes and the intimate social interactions among our people, to say nothing about the burden of the many others diseases like malaria, measles and AIDS that we have, an increase in COVID, especially in the communities can only spell disaster.
The Social Services Department, Caritas-Tororo embarked upon a program of promoting and teaching our people ways to prevent the spread of this disease. The staff trained about 1,500 peasant farmers in how to make liquid detergent for hand washings. They in turn trained their family members to do the same, since the majority of people cannot afford to buy manufactured bleach and detergents. They also taught them how to make hand-washing stations using household materials, since most homes lack plumbing. Similarly mothers were taught how to make masks not only for their families, but also as an income-generator. Caritas also broadcast messages on local FM radio stations informing people about the dangers of COVID19 pandemic as well as teaching them how to avoid contracting it. Caritas formulated Standard Operating Procedures and guidelines to help people continue to go about their daily business, without putting themselves and others in danger, especially since most people need to earn a daily wage to feed their families and so could not go into complete quarantine.
In the midst of these struggles and uncertainties, we continue to provide for the spiritual needs of our people. The Uganda Bishops’ Conference arranged for various bishops to preside over Mass in the Capital City that would be broadcast over television for the whole nation. Because the majority of people do not have television, but at least have radio, in our local area, our efforts were focused on radio Masses. Masses by the Archbishop and other priests were regularly offered on our local Catholic Radio Maria station, in various languages used in our area: English, Luganda, Lugisu, Dhopadhola, Ateso etc.
Although these virtual masses can never replace the intimate encounter with our Lord when one attends Mass personally, they were greatly appreciated by the faithful, who continued to receive comfort from the Word of God. Similarly, we used radio to promote other devotions such as the rosary, novenas as well as catechesis. One unseen benefit of the radio ministry was that it was not going just to Catholics, but to others as well. As of October 1, 2020, we can now have in-person services for up to 70 people. Although this number is miniscule since our Mass congregations usually number in the hundreds, it is a start and we are taking advantage of it by having as many masses as possible to accommodate our people. We are ensuring that our people are returning to Mass, but also that they are doing so in a safe manner.
Our Catholic hospital of St. Anthony’s in Tororo and our smaller parish clinics have already treated some of the COVID-19 patients including some of our priests and are getting ready for a greater influx of patients. Given our limited supplies and equipment, this is a tall order, especially as we balance care for the patient and protection of our small number of trained staff. But our ministry is to care for Jesus in the sick, especially the poorest.
As we thank you for your continued support of our work and we ask that you continue to pray for us, as we pray for you, that this pandemic will come to a quick end. Pray especially that it may not spread into our poorest communities, who don’t have the means of protecting and treating themselves.
Archdiocese of Tororo was assigned to St. Timothy, Escondido for Missionary Cooperation Plan 2019. They are assigned to St. Francis of Assissi Church, Vista for Missionary Cooperation Plan 2021.
Information provided by Fr. Deogratias Ekisa, Archdiocese of Tororo