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Kitengela Youth CampI just returned to Lyon from Kampala (Uganda), where I took part in the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and its 18th Plenary Assembly which took place from 19 to 29 July 2019, on the theme “Church - Family of God in Africa, celebrate your jubilee, proclaim Jesus Christ your Saviour”. At the end of the celebration, which allowed for pastoral reflections on the theme “May they know Christ and have life in abundance” (Jn 17:3; 10:10), the Pastors of Africa and Madagascar, addressed a message and exhortation to the Church – Family of God in Africa and the youth were not left behind.

In the name of all the youth of Africa, Charles Marc Odoi from Ghana and Fr. Valery Sakougri from Burkina Faso in their report to SECAM pointed out that;

“The African youth are confronted with problems among which the most important are; the different forms of colonization (cultural, ideological religious... the sects and esoteric groups that are gaining ground in Africa), depravity of mores, the loss of cultural and moral values, migration, different sorts of addiction to alcohol and hard drugs, terrorism...”

Context of the Youth Camp:

Hailed as the fastest-growing town in Eastern and Central Africa, Kitengela town offers a myriad of opportunities but also exposes young people to real dangers. Found along the main road linking Kenya and Tanzania, the town is both a transit and destination for illicit drugs and other substances. There are many outlets selling cheap alcohol while promoting gambling and betting activities. Reports from most parents indicated that once their children join public schools, most of them end up losing the Catholic/Christian ethos that had been inculcated in them during their early years of growth in families and catechesis. The new generation Churches and their exaltation of the prosperity gospel that shies away from the cross and the values of hard work and honesty have seen many children and youths lose their catholic faith and join these sects, and in some instances unknowingly get initiated into secret cults. Parents feel helpless as they seek a balance between the demands of work and parental responsibilities.

These and other factors convinced the St. Monica Parish Council to organize a Camp for children and youths between the ages of 8 and 19 years. Professionals in various fields (educators, counselors, business people, lawyers, doctors/nurses, environmentalists) drawn mainly from the Parish joined the pastoral team in organizing the Camp. The Camp registered 1,540 participants!

The Facilitators divided participants into smaller groups based on their age/level of education. Apart from Opening Mass and closing Mass, various traditional Catholic prayers, such as Divine Mercy, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross and the Sacrament of Confessions, were spread across the 14 days. Other Social-Cultural and Human developmental aspects that were prioritized during the Camp included the following:

- Care of the environment

- Catholic Social Teaching and Principles

- Responsible use of social media and other modern means of communication

- The place of Betting and Gambling in a young Catholic’s life

- Alcohol, drugs and substance abuse

- Career development and choice

- Talent development

Outcome:

What was outstanding was the overwhelming number of children/youth who enrolled for the Camp and stayed for the entire duration of the Camp, with the numbers growing each day. Also outstanding was the level of ownership of the program by the parish community. Most of the 3 meals served during the Camp were contributed by the Parishioners, those who had children at the Camp and even those who didn’t. The Camp also had an ecumenical dimension because children and youths from other Churches and religions fully participated in all activities. Lastly, the various facilitators involved in the Camp voluntarily offered their expertise.

Future Plans

On the last day of the Camp, an open forum bringing parents/guardians and their children was held in an atmosphere of respect and attentive listening. Children/youths expressed their expectations to their parents and vice versa. It was a moment of grace!

The unanimous agreement was that the Camp shall continue in the years to come. The Parish Council is finalizing the 2019 -2025 Strategic Plan. Children and Youth form an important pillar of this important document that will guide the pastoral activities of the Parish in the next six years.

“In faith and hope, we plant the seed, as we ask God to bring to completion the good work He began in these children and youths.” Said Fr. Benard Asuka the parish priest.

This would seem like a response to the message of the pastors of SECAM that observed;

The place of children and young people is important in evangelization. Special attention and quality education will make them witnesses of Christ.

Therefore in their exhortation, they committed to;

1. To invest even more in the biblical, theological, moral and spiritual formation of all the baptized, to nourish them with the sacraments, so that they may penetrate the Gospel in all aspects of life; aided in this by the example of the African saints; that they resist the various demands of the New Religious Movements and ideologies contrary to the Catholic faith.

2. To promote the formation and the human, professional, moral and spiritual education of children and young people, to root them in the evangelical radicalism that separates them from the various forms of fundamentalism and violence.

3. We urge the laity, men and women, to become more involved in the mission of transfiguration of society, drawing inspiration from the Gospel, the catechism of the Catholic Church and the social doctrine of the Church.

If all the pastors would put in place such programs, I believe we shall be able to give direction to our youth and we shall be able to have future responsible leaders in Africa.

Let us entrust Africa and the mission of the Church to Mary, Queen of Africa, that St Joseph, the Martyrs of Uganda, and all the Saints of Africa and Madagascar obtain for us a renewed zeal for Jesus Christ. May the Jubilee we have just celebrated be the starting point for a new impetus for a new life in Jesus – Christ, for the service of Africa. Amen!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Dominic Wabwireh