The closing of the Liturgical Year, Thanksgiving and Advent; currently indicating an ending, an occasion for gratitude and a new beginning. These days have me thinking of all that I’ve gained in 2020 and all that I have lost. The lists on both sides of this dichotomy are long. And I think we can all agree, it would be easy to get caught up in sorrow and woe because of the daily volatility in which we wake.  Recently, when I was compelled to journey down that sad path, I received an email from a Ugandan priest, Father Deus, whom I had met exactly 4 years ago. Father’s email redirected me from sulking in my losses, and instead jolted me into joy.

 

When we met, Father and I mutually shared our love of Pope St. John Paul II and the Theology of the Body. Consequently, we have stayed “email pals” and often pray for each other’s special intentions ever since. As I contemplate this time of year involving endings, Thanksgivings and beginnings, I feel inspired to share Father Deus’s amazing journey to becoming a priest and recognize Pope St. John Paul II’s hand in lifting up a good and holy priest (among many) for the third millennium.

 

When I feel tugged to ruminate over the dark side of my list, I can instead think of Father Deus with his ebony skin, glistening white teeth and enormous, holy smile. He radiates the love of Christ and the love of his priestly vocation. This brings me out of my sulking and into a place of authentic joy thinking of a priest who is truly living a “total gift of self”. Two people with seemingly nothing in common becoming friends because undeniably, we have EVERYTHING in common, and that is Jesus. Jesus is everything and that is what we need to remember during these topsy turvy, tumultuous times.

 

Please enjoy, in his own words, the story Father Deus had shared in person and recently emailed to me:

 

“I was excited when you reminded me about my experience of John Paul II in Uganda. I had just joined a Seminary when I was 11 years old in 1993. We were told that Pope John Paul was coming to Uganda for a visit and to pray for our Country. We were told to tell our parents to give us money for transport to go to the Capital City where the Pope could meet the Youths. We were supposed to pay $ 2 each. I had no money, and I had no Parents. I was a School Dependent (this means during holidays I could remain at School to dig in order to pay for my Fees). I had never gone to the Capital. I had never travelled in the Bus. I used to walk almost 20 Kilometers to the School from Home.”
“They had told us that a Pope was a Holy Man of God. That he talks with God directly. I wanted to meet him to ask him to tell God that I want to be a Priest. I also wanted to ask him to tell God never to put my Parents in Hell fire. I was still young but full of Faith in this Man of God. They even brought Photos of the Pope when giving the Blessing. I was very much excited to see his Photos.”
“Time came to go and see the Pope; my name was not on the list for those who could go and see the Pope. I went to the Rector and pleaded with him. The Man of God refused to put me on the List. I cried for some hours, I cried more but the Man didn’t listen.”
“I went back to my bed, I prayed to God and asked Pope John Paul II to pray for me. In the morning when the children were boarding to go to the City, one boy who was a friend of mine, he told me that he is not feeling well, he will not be able to go, if I can replace him. I was excited and filled with Joy. I told the Rector, and he said I can replace him. Then I boarded the Bus, thanking God and Pope John Paul II. It was a Miracle for me.”
“I saw the Pope but the people were in thousands, I could not talk to him as I was very far in crowd. I waved at him saying, JOHN PAUL II I LOVE YOU. It was a good experience for me.”
“I felt bad when the boy whom I replaced to go and see the Pope was dismissed from the Seminary. He never became a Priest but he is a happy Man married with Four Children. He is still a good friend of Mine.”
“These memories of John Paul II are still fresh in my mind.”
“Thank you so much Laura to remind me about Saint John Paul II.”

 

So much of Father’s story and subsequent works exhibit the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II. Finding oneself through a sincere gift of self is embodied as Father Deus cares for hundreds of Ugandan children orphaned through AIDS and other diseases. The way they grow their own food in gardens they maintain and cultivate, reminds us that all of creation is a gift for man. Praying and serving sacramentally while teaching children the faith, exemplifies living authentically in one’s vocation.  Living as a “communion of persons” by maintaining friendships from the other side of the globe, is truly the sign of a man with Christ in His heart.

 

Theology of the Body, the inspired articulation given to us by Pope St. John Paul II, is the Gospel message we all have an obligation to learn and a responsibility to pass on to others. In these days of confusion and darkness, sharing this truth and light is an honor and a blessing. As for me, I cannot wait to travel to Uganda to help spread these teachings through our beautiful ROOTED curriculum with my JP II priest friend and the children of his orphanage.

 

Written by,

Laura Strietmann, Curriculum Consultant for Ruah Woods Press