Pope Francis on Friday called on Uganda’s government to demonstrate “responsible” leadership in the conflict-prone country.
Addressing officials, including President Yoweri Museveni, the pontiff said God had blessed Uganda with numerous resources, and for that reason “your task is to prove yourself as responsible managers.”
Museveni has ruled Uganda since the 1980s, and has come under fire for his increasingly autocratic tendencies, including, most recently, a crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Critics allege that a new law, passed in a late-night sitting on the eve of the pope’s arrival, gives the government unprecedented powers to shut down NGOs and jail their members.
The pope struck a similar chord in Kenya, the first country he visited in Africa, where he also railed against corruption.
A hero’s welcome
Pope Francis was received by Museveni, as well as other government officials and church leaders, earlier on Friday.
A brass band, choir singers, dancers and a military salute were all part of the spectacle as the Argentinian pontiff, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, walked down a red carpet laid out for him at Entebbe International Airport.
He didn’t have only criticism for the country, and praised Uganda for its handling of refugees. According to the UN refugee agency, Uganda hosts more than 500,000 people, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in neighboring countries like the Democratic Repulic of Congo and South Sudan.
“How we deal with them [refugees] is a test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need,” Pope Francis said.
The visit to Uganda is the second leg of the pope’s three-country tour of Africa, itself the first time he has visited the continent since becoming leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013. He will move on to the Central African Republic next.
Honoring the dead
The pope is in Uganda to honor the memory of a group of Christians – 22 of whom were Catholic and 23 of whom were Anglicans – who were slaughtered on the orders of a local king trying to prevent the spread of Christianity between 1885 and 1887. The Catholic victims were canonized by the church in 1964.
Pope Francis will attend a Saturday mass in their honor. He will then pay a visit to a shrine honoring the Anglican victims. He will depart for the Central African Republic on Sunday.
Africa is home to around 180 million Catholics, although the number is continuing to grow.