Relationship is what life is all about. Late last year, I was given a valuable gift of a new relationship with the Good Samaritan Sisters, Uganda, writes Veronica McCluskie SGS.
Our Congregational Leader, Sister Patty Fawkner, had asked me if I was willing to visit the Good Samaritan Sisters, Uganda. Patty had met their Superior General Sr John Evangelist Mugisha at a gathering of Superiors General in Rome in 2019. For our congregations, this was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.
The Good Samaritan Sisters, Uganda are an institute of the diocesan rite, founded in 1978 by the late Emmanuel Cardinal Kiwanuka Nsubuga in the Archdiocese of Kampala. During my 12-day visit to Uganda in December last year, I was surprised, amazed and deeply touched by this group of women.
On arrival at the airport, I was met by two Good Samaritan sisters and their driver with beaming smiles and a simple but beautiful bunch of flowers. Stepping outside, I was struck by the humidity, the crowds, and cars that seemed to go in any direction along roads riddled with potholes.
Their hospitality and care of me was truly “Good Samaritan”. Thankfully, English is the common language across more than 40 language groups, so communication was not a problem. Uganda is not much bigger than Victoria but has a population of 43 million. Despite obvious poverty, the people appear to be happy, with a certain vibrant quality.
The Mother House and headquarters are located at Nalukolongo, where I visited the quarters for men, women and children with disabilities. The sisters also care for retired priests who can no longer manage for themselves. This was the founding work of the congregation, however, changing needs have challenged them to expand their ministries.
The sisters are now involved in teaching, nursing and midwifery, social work and care of orphans, many as a result of AIDS. They are counsellors, secretaries, catechists, administrators and agriculturalists.
I had opportunities to meet many of the sisters, who are no longer limited to their founding Diocese but are spread across many dioceses in Uganda. I was welcomed at their convents and joined them in the ceremonies of First Profession, Final Profession and Jubilee celebrations.
After the Final Profession, Archbishop Cyprian Zizito Lwanga introduced me to the congregation and gave me the Ugandan clan name of Nansubuga. This placed me in the same clan as the founder. I felt both very privileged and most humbled.
These Good Samaritans are a vibrant group. At first the younger sisters appeared to be quite shy, but that changed after I got to know them. I found they love dancing and joking.
Living the motto “Be a Good Samaritan” is very real to them. The sisters who work in the orphanages have a friendly, warm relationship with the children, but did not appear to be overly ‘motherly’. Their work includes a large manual component as they grow most of their food.
I was introduced to a very different diet. The staple food called Matooke is made from plantain (green) bananas and served at all meals, including breakfast. A paste/sauce of g-nuts tastes like peanuts and is eaten with Matooke. A soft, sweet white bread is also plentiful in addition to sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, chicken and fish, and greens.
Activities included a trip to the beginning of the Nile, not quite the source that is in Lake Victoria, and a tour of Entebbe Zoo where most of the animals have been rescued from poachers.
On a visit to the Equator we were able to watch how water flows down the drain. It runs anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and straight down on the actual Equator.
An added bonus was a visit to the major shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs for the sesquicentenary celebration of the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of our Lady of Africa (White Fathers and Sisters).
One of the many joys of my visit was meeting the “Pioneers”. These are the sisters who began the congregation with Cardinal Nsubuga. Six of them are still living. There was something unique and special about them… a direct link to their founding charism of being Good Samaritan. It was as if I could actually touch not just their charism, but ours as well.
I was able to join with the sisters in their daily rhythm of life beginning with Eucharist at 6am. This was often by lamplight as we experienced power outages most mornings. Can you imagine the atmosphere of the predawn darkness, celebrating Eucharist to the sound of drums and voice – and could those sisters sing!
The majority of the sisters are young and vibrant. The atmosphere around them was one of happy contentment. There are 186 Good Samaritan Sisters, Uganda spread across 35 houses. At present they have 15 novices (six second years and nine first years) along with four postulants and a number of inquirers. It was amusing and enjoyable to chat with them. I wanted to know about them, but they wanted to know about the Good Samaritans in Australia. It delighted them to know that across the world was another group of Good Samaritan Sisters.
Sr John arranged for me to meet with some of the members of her council to discuss ways we might support each other and work together. Their dream is to build a dispensary, or health clinic, that would service the needs of their orphanage, schools and the local people.
They minister within a culture where corruption and poverty abound. Due to the legacy of their founder, the community is relatively land rich but cash poor. They have the land but not the means to build. Our congregation will give $US10,000 per annum for the next three years to help the sisters in Uganda realise their dream.
They dream not for themselves, but for those they serve. Real Good Samaritans? Yes indeed.