Many times, while visiting the missions, I spend time driving for hours past unfamiliar sights. One day in Uganda, it was half-constructed buildings being used as roadside stores and homes, chickens and goats running freely with the children, and banana trees and corn growing together everywhere.
My driver was Father Sylvester Arinaitwe, AJ, a former Superior General of the Apostles of Jesus, a missionary order founded in 1968 in Africa. They are known as the Ajs and, at the time of my visit, were hard at work building a school, health clinic, and chapel complex on a local farm run by the order and their affiliated Sisters, The Evangelizing Sisters of Mary. The children at the school were waiting to take us to one of three existing classrooms. They were adorably excited as they performed their songs, poems, and prayers for their visitors.
The Sisters put them through their paces as they recited their lessons for us; then came the beautiful singing. The best song carried a message for all children: "Education is the tool I must use, education is the tool I must use, education is the tool I must use...oh-oh-oh-oh education, ooh."
One by one they stepped forward to sing the verses -- "I'd like to be a pilot before I die (A pilot! The chorus would exclaim)." We also heard dreams of a nurse, a doctor, and a would-be Sister. All these children knew that the education provided by missionaries was their key to realizing their goals. Most importantly, they knew that the gifts they had inside them came from a loving God who is always with them.
But mark their words. Already so aware of the fragility of life, they hoped for the chance to live their dreams before they die.
As I handed out religious medals in gratitude for their hard work, I promised the children that the people where I lived, in faraway Boston, would not forget them through our support of the Apostles of Jesus. Though too young to understand the program, they are direct beneficiaries of prayers and donations being made in our parishes during the Mission Co Operative Program in which the Ajs take part, this year preaching at Sacred Heart in East Boston and Saint Catherine of Siena in Norwood.
The assistance provided will help add classrooms, a library, a dining hall and more for their students in Uganda.
And who knows? Perhaps one day, that young child will be a pilot and fly all the way to Boston, thanks to the AJ missionaries who taught him to have faith in God and gave him "the tool" to use.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.