Exemplifying Pope Francis’ call for World Day of the Poor, a young priest and nun in Uganda rose from poverty to serve others.
According to the World Bank, about 8% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty. That there are so many poor people is a terrible reality, but what makes it worse is the paralyzing effect that fact can have on those who could help. Poverty, some think, is too big a problem to solve, so why bother trying?
In his address for this year’s World Day of the Poor on November 19, Pope Francis warns of the danger of thinking about poverty in such abstract terms.
When speaking of the poor, it is easy to fall into rhetorical excess. It is also an insidious temptation to remain at the level of statistics and numbers. The poor are persons; they have faces, stories, hearts and souls. They are our brothers and sisters … and it is important to enter into a personal relationship with each of them.
Opportunity blossoming into ministry
Two of the faces and stories of which Pope Francis spoke belong to Father Aiden Ndawula and Sister Betty Namwazi, former Unbound sponsored members who’ve each embraced a religious vocation. Father Aiden is a priest of the Diocese of Masaka in southern Uganda, and Sister Betty, also from Uganda, belongs to the Daughters of Mary, the first religious congregation of Indigenous women south of the Sahara.
Father Aiden currently serves at Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces Church in Bukulula. He’s in charge of the parish school and works with youth.
“The youths I deal with, mostly I've loved to help them grow into people of integrity. ... I want them to be hardworking. … I'm always reminding them there are certain values of life which you have to embrace.”
Sister Betty also works with young people in her role as headmistress of the girls school run by her congregation in Bwanda, also located in the Diocese of Masaka. Many of the students who attend the school are from poor families.
“Right now, we are fighting for [the] girl child. … The school [has an enrollment of] 700 girls, but of course with different backgrounds. How I pray I can get more because I have the capacity of accommodating a thousand plus.”
‘I was the happiest’
Sister Betty’s desire to serve girls in poverty comes from her own experience as a child. She credits her Unbound sponsorship with providing opportunities she wouldn’t have otherwise had as the oldest of five children in a family of subsistence farmers.
“My dad had nothing,” she said. “I was not able to pay for my school fees. So, [when Unbound] came in, I was the happiest. They could … pay my school fees. They could [also] give us some other things: scholastic materials, books, pens, and I didn’t struggle so much.”
Years after the sponsorship ended, Sister Betty remains grateful to her sponsors for their support.
“I pray for them every day,” she said. “I just love them, and I say a … very big ‘thank you’ to them. … Let them be blessed.”
He loved the community
Father Aiden was one of 11 children raised by a grandmother who died at the age of 109. She had a powerful influence on him and the path he chose.
He remembers being sponsored at around 8 years old, and how much he loved belonging to a community dedicated to supporting young people, elders and families.
“I pray that the mission of Christ continues to be realized through Unbound because Christ came that we might have life and have it in abundance. … And one way of having life in abundance is helping [those in need].”
Sharing hope and opportunity
The stories of Sister Betty and Father Aiden illustrate a truth proven time and again: When people in poverty are given hope and an opportunity to lift themselves up, they often desire to express their gratitude by sharing that hope and opportunity with others.
For Christians, caring for the poor is an essential element of life in Christ. Recognizing Christ in the poor has been the central theme of Francis’ papacy and one he comes back to in his World Day of the Poor address.
“In a word, whenever we encounter a poor person, we cannot look away, for that would prevent us from encountering the face of the Lord Jesus.”
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About the Author
Unbound is an international nonprofit founded by lay Catholics grounded in the Gospel call to put the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable first. We build relationships of mutual respect and support that bridge cultural, religious and economic divides. We bring people together to challenge poverty in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We invite you to join us. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.