Life in all ages, stages and forms
By Rev. Thomas Flanagan, Ed.D.
We place a lot of emphasis on family life here in the USA. Still, we have seen over the past years how the bonds that hold the family together are no longer as strong as they once were. School events and other activities consume a lot of our children’s time; work outside the home for both parents keeps us apart. There is hardly a chance for even one meal together as a family during the day, especially when the children get to high school. The situation is somewhat different in mission countries and among our migrant families for whom traditional family life means that most everything is lived and celebrated together.
During this month of October we celebrate Right to Life Month; that includes life in all of its ages, stages and forms. We are particularly aware of the children who die through abortion. We try to do all that we can to help mothers choose life for their unborn babies. We also are aware of the many other innocent children who die through hunger and disease, as casualties of war and political conflicts, through neglect, discrimination, abuse and violence. In all these ways families are torn apart.
As a missionary I became aware of a particularly sad situation in the life of children and families whenever I visited the members of the Holy Spirit Community in the Archdiocese of Gulu in northern Uganda. Anecdotal stories of those who experienced these events first hand were shared with me. For about twenty years a civil war was going on in that part of the country, waged by a group called the Lord’s Resistance Army against the government of Uganda. Soldiers of the LRA lived in the bush and moved back and forth between northern Uganda and southern Sudan. They often attacked villages to steal whatever provisions they needed. They killed the very young and the adults and burned their homes. They kidnapped the children in the age of about ten to sixteen.
The children were forced to run along with the soldiers for miles to their bush encampments. If they became too tired to continue and collapsed on the path another child often was forced to shoot them, sometimes the victims were their own family members or friends from the village. They ran for hours at a time with no food or water. During their captivity the children were trained to become soldiers themselves and were forced to join in looting and killing. Girls were forced to be slaves to the soldiers and many became mothers at a young age.
On the several occasions when I visited Gulu I stayed at the minor seminar. One time a unit of government soldiers was camped around the seminary to protect the property and the people. Not only were the young seminarians there, but people from the surrounding area came in the evening to take refuge there during the night.
About 8:00 p.m. one evening while the priests of the seminary and I were in the refectory for dinner the leader of the soldiers came and told us that we had to shut off the generator, which was supplying electrical power, and go to our rooms. There was fear that the LRA was intending to attack that night as some suspicious looking men had been seen in the town that day. We all went to our rooms and by 8:30 everything was pitched in darkness. A heavy rain was falling. There was nothing to do but lock the door, go to bed and prayerfully entrust everything to the Lord’s care. I was happy to wake up the next morning and discover that the LRA had not come! They did attack another night however, when they kidnapped about forty of the seminarians and forced them to go with them into the bush. Only about half of them were ever heard from again.
Fortunately, through the persistent mediation of the Archbishop of Gulu and other officials, a measure of peace now has returned to that area. But the trauma will remain for ever with the young people who survived the ordeal of captivity.
As we celebrate Right to Life month, we redouble our efforts to protect the dignity of all life. Let us help all pregnant mothers choose life, and pray for those whose families have been torn apart, and for the children of the world who suffer at the hands of others.
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