Longmont Catholics work to make life better for the poor in Uganda
By Julie Filby
When Father Francis Mayinja first visited St. John the Baptist Church in Longmont more than five years ago from his native Uganda, he told parishioners about the struggles of people in his home village of Wabale.
Residents were without clean water, many children didn’t have a school to attend, the sick and elderly had little access to the health care they needed, and several of their churches had dirt floors and no doors or windows.
Touched by his compelling stories, the Colorado congregation quickly bonded with the missionary priest and instantly fell in love with their Ugandan brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.
“Father Francis understood them,” John Williams, outreach coordinator at St. John the Baptist, told the Denver Catholic Register. “He knew them as friends and fellow villagers … (and) we became attached to this humble servant.”
That bond was evident in the parish’s generous response: $30,000 was collected.
“Our gift was allocated for education, food and clean water,” said Williams. “With our donations, a primary school was started, food was purchased for students’ lunches, and the first cistern was installed to provide clean water.”
The parish sent cards and letters, and took up collections of supplies for schools, including St. Kizito School in Wabale, an elementary school built with their donations.
At the request of then-pastor, Father Brian Morrow, Father Mayinja returned in 2008 to thank the parish for their generosity, and to show them the fruits of their donations. He’s returned every year since.
Support of the ministry in the parish of 5,000 families has continued to grow: two classrooms have been added to the five-classroom school, churches have been built, solar power has been added at several locations, and in cooperation with Engineers Without Borders, a dozen cisterns were installed to filter water.
“Our priorities are education, clean water and building up the Church,” said Williams, who traveled to Uganda last October for the dedication of the classrooms and to deliver uniforms to the school’s basketball team—compliments of the Longmont parish school that has adopted St. Kizito’s as their sister school.
“They were elated,” he said. “They all immediately went and changed into their uniforms.”
Ongoing contributions have provided money for food, livestock, mattresses and blankets, tuition assistance, medical and dental equipment, and staff housing for a health clinic in Gayaza. Recently they started building staff housing for the school’s teachers.
“They can’t afford to pay them (health care workers and teachers) the salary they should get—or could get elsewhere,” he explained. “It’s less expensive to provide housing … plus then they’re on-site.”
Williams described his 10-day trip to Uganda as “the experience of a lifetime.”
“It was very humbling,” he said. “I really came home with a realization of the enormous amount of lives Father Francis touches”—not only in fulfilling material needs, but spiritual needs as well.
“It was amazing the number of people, just in the time I was there (10 days),” he continued, “who were baptized and received their first Communion.”
Catholicism is the fastest growing religion in Africa, he said.
“If you could just see the children and their joy and gratefulness for what we do for them.”
Current pastor, Father Ron Weissbeck, has a unique appreciation for Father Mayinja’s work, as he was also a missionary priest—serving as pastor of the Denver Archdiocese’s mission team in Monteria, Colombia, in the ‘90s.
“His ministry is very alive,” said Father Weissbeck. “The parish really took this on, and have a great commitment to Father Francis.”
They plan to continue their fundraising efforts with a dinner this spring or summer.
“This ministry has united our parish community in a very special way,” Williams said. “We feel as though we’re responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters. They may be half a world away from us, but they are always in our hearts and prayers.”