, KOLOLO AIRSTRIP, Uganda, Nov 28 – The mood at the Kololo Airstrip ‘Independence Grounds’ was electric – long before the arrival of Pope Francis.
Youths sang and danced their hearts out as they waited for the 78 year-old Pontiff who is on his second leg of a three-nation inaugural Africa trip.
But the mood was rather sombre as two youths – Emmanuel Odokonyero and Winnie Nansumba – took to the microphone to tell the Pope of their tribulations with conflict and the HIV/Aids scourge.
Odokonyero was among 41 students who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army in May 2003 from the Sacred Heart Minor Seminary, Lacor.
He however managed to live to tell the horror he underwent to Pope Francis on Saturday.
“Some of our friends were murdered… I was tortured and they tied my hands behind my back and I failed to breathe. I wanted to ask to be killed than to suffer such a pain. They then untied me and warned me not to escape. By God’s grace, I managed to escape on 11th August 2003 from Namokora Sub-county, Kitgum District,” he told an attentive Pope Francis.
Eleven other seminarians and scores of others remain in captivity and Odokonyero asked those gathered to offer prayers for them.
But he is at peace with whatever happened to him: “To those who tortured us, I am glad my heart has found love, forgiveness, peace and joy.”
Odokonyero is a testament that despite the ache he underwent, one can overcome – he did not give up and managed to go back to school where he graduated with a degree in Business Administration.
When she stood to share her life story, 24 year-old Nansumba revealed that she was born, and is living with HIV.
She lost both her parents when she was barely seven years-old.
“As a young woman, I always found it hard to fall in love because I thought I didn’t have a right to love and be loved. I was always afraid of explaining my life. Thank God I developed a positive attitude towards this over time.”
She has been using her story to teach, inspire and create positive change.
She told the young people gathered to meet Pope Francis that it was essential to respect their lives and those of others.
“We need to adopt new practices and behaviours that will help each one of us play their role in the fight against HIV. We are not fighting a lost battle our elders have done their part and developments have been seen. It’s now our time to play our part,” she urged.
When he stood to speak, Pope Francis gave them encouragement and strengthened their hope.
He gave the example of a child who falls and starts looking for their mother. “Pray to your mother Mary,” Pope Francis said.
The sound system was rather poor, and it did not escape the Pope who jokingly said the equipment was like humans sometimes – they fail too.
He said all of us have to be like that little children, even the Pope!
“When I look at your faces I am filled with hope: hope for you, hope for your country, and hope for the Church.”
On Sunday, Pope Francis embarks on the final leg of his visit to the continent, with a trip to the Central African Republic. The visit to CAR is still on despite concerns on the Pope’s safety due to sectarian conflict.
Vatican officials say a last-minute change to his programme will only happen if Francis is made aware of a precise threat that could endanger the thousands of believers expected to come and see him.