By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
The sense of unity that’s a hallmark of the Catholic Schools Mass gains a truly global perspective from the traditional pre-Mass presentation on the Church’s mission fields.
This year’s program, featuring a talk by Father Evarist Kabagambe, who hails from Uganda, capped by a procession of cultural and religious symbols from around the world, perfectly exemplified that.
Introduced by Father Peter James Alindogan, diocesan director of Missions, Father Kabagambe, parochial vicar in Holy Innocents Parish and chaplain in Jersey Shore Medical Center, both Neptune, greeted the hundreds of young people at the Catholic Schools Mass held Oct. 12 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, explaining that his service on America’s shores illustrates something of a role reversal.
“Maybe in the past, you have heard of missionaries who came from the U.S.,” he said. “I was born in a mission land, and [here] I am doing missionary work.”
Born and raised in Uganda, Father Kabagambe expressed the thought that many people in the United States know the East African nation only as a country once ruled by fallen dictator Idi Amin. “I tell people [Amin] has been dead for 12 years. Get over it.”
He expressed regret that while many people recognize the name Amin, few know the names of the 22 Ugandan martyrs led by St. Charles Lwanga who died for their faith in 1886 and were canonized by Pope Paul in 1964.
Father Kabagambe explained that he was with the students to speak about missions and the help and hope they bring to people of many different lands. He asked the students to think about the ways in which the missions help people around the world, noting that these efforts have established the only schools, hospitals and husbandry programs millions have ever known.
The efforts of missionaries – including countless from the developed world – have enabled missionaries from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America to take up farming and generate hospitals. They are, he said, accomplishing tremendous things.
He spoke of how missionaries help people at-large and individually, citing his own example of missionaries helping him complete the seminary – a key factor enabling him to stand before the students on this celebratory day.
So, he said with a smile, “when there is an appeal, all of us should respond. Thank you for your attention.”
Father Kabagambe’s closing words drew attention to the fact that Father Alindogan, in his opening remarks, had recognized schools from around the Diocese for the amount of money they raised in the recent missions appeal, including St. Benedict School, Holmdel, honorable mention; St. Jerome School, West Long Branch, second place, and Villa Victoria Academy, Ewing, first place. Holy Cross Academy, Delran, took the high school first place honors.
Father Kabagambe’s presentation was echoed in the opening procession of the students from the 41 schools who carried not only their school’s banners but cultural and religious symbols from the mission fields all over the world into the nave of the Co-Cathedral, where they were placed on an artifact table overseen by students from Red Bank Catholic High School
Among them were carved bowls, tapestries, a crested hat, rosaries and a handwritten item – most collected, Father Alindogan noted later, by the late Msgr. Richard L. Tofani during his more than 20-year tenure as diocesan mission director.
Father Alindogan, who is also pastor of St. Jerome Parish, Long Branch, and St. Mary Parish, Deal, explained that Msgr. Tofani shared his missionary experiences to 26 nations around the world and the Northwest Native American Missions of the United States, as widely as possible with the people of the Diocese, by way of columns in The Monitor and personal interaction.
Occasions such as the Catholic Schools Mass are important ways to do that, Father Alindogan said after Mass, noting that he was departing within a couple of days on a mission trip to Madagascar. He said he plans to visit rural villages and preach the Gospel and distribute rosaries, vessels and vestments to the struggling Christian communities.
“In partnership with the Catholic schools,” he said, “we are able to reach out and help children all over the world.”