In 2017, I was ordained as a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Kasese in Western Uganda, East Africa. Just after my ordination, my bishop appointed me to teach in the diocesan high school seminary. Bishop Francis Aquirinus Kibira also asked me to visit two outstations every weekend to listen to confessions and celebrate Mass for the people there.
I looked forward to visiting the outstations, listening to confessions and celebrating Mass; however, I was anxious about going to a new place. Here I was, a young, inexperienced priest born and raised in an urban center, sent to minister to these wonderful people. They were a different people speaking a different language, and they had just experienced one of the worst droughts that year. Their livelihood and income levels were suffering since they heavily depended on farm produce for survival.
The first weekend I visited the outstations, I was excited to show off how much (or how little) theology I had learned in the seminary with a theologically deep homily about the Trinity and God’s active participation in human activity. However, after entering the packed church and looking at the faces of the people in the congregation, I quickly realized that my homily was completely out of place.
In an instant, humility returned to me. I read one common question on the faces of those in the congregation: “How is God going to turn our lives around?” They were looking for assurance that their faith rooted in Catholic teaching would sustain them through these tough times.
At the beginning of my homily, I told the congregation how I grew up in the urban center of Kampala but always returned to our family farmland to till the land. I intended to connect with the congregation through my farming experience. I shared with them a valuable lesson I learned from my grandmother, who told me how God acts in our lives like the seed that grows in the soil, sprouts and produces fruit.
At the end of my homily, I told the congregation how we all participate in this process. We identify the seed to plant and work hard to make sure that it grows. The Church offers the support system for it to sprout and flourish, and God animates this whole process. The Church, therefore, has a duty to preach the hope that things can get better; to preach love by pointing to collaboration in human activity; and to preach faith that human effort, blessed by God, will surely bring about growth and development.
The Roman Catholic Church does this especially through its social teaching, whose mandate comes from both Scripture and canon law — salus animarum (for the salvation of souls). To my surprise (and against the principles of homiletics), when I finished my homily, the congregation gave me a standing ovation.
The challenge now was how we would implement what I had just shared with them. After Mass, the people asked me to stay with them for an hour (which turned into three) to brainstorm initiatives that each one of them could do and ideas for how the local church could support them.
We zeroed in on three initiatives: group farming, micro-credit and financing, and group selling. The local parish took on the responsibility of lending its old tractor to these Christians, identifying agriculturists to facilitate two workshops, and recommending them for a low-interest loan from Centenary Bank, a bank founded and operated by the Catholic Church in Uganda.
Having done this, there were still questions I couldn’t answer about systems and sustainability. I recognized that to better serve these communities, I needed to learn more about business. That is one of the reasons why I decided to embark on my journey at Notre Dame to earn an MBA.
Looking back to this moment, considering my limited business vocabulary at the time, I realize that I was talking about an entrepreneurial mindset. It became clear to me how much the Church can use entrepreneurship and “honorable” business to drive the holistic development of the community. The development I talk about here is Integral Human Development (IHD). It leaves no one behind and aims at the growth of each person and the whole person (Paul VI, pp 14).
This is all built on the foundation of the seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching: life and dignity of the human person; a call to family, community, and participation; a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency; an option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity as one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences; and care for God’s creation.
Three Scripture texts in which Catholic Social Teaching is rooted stand out to me here: Genesis 3:19 (“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground”), John 10:10 (“I came that they may have life and have it in abundance”) and Matthew 14:13- 21 (the feeding of 5,000). The last text clearly points to the holistic work of the Church — spiritual development, human development, moral development and economic development.
In a 2015 address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Pope Francis said, “The challenges are complex and have multiple causes; the response, therefore, must necessarily be complex and well-structured, respectful of the diverse cultural riches of peoples. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
The Catholic Church through its social teaching ought to be taking a lead, especially through entrepreneurship and business, by going from the pulpit to people’s homes to bring about Integral Human Development. This by extension is the calling of the business school at Our Lady’s University — to be a force for good in the world.
Photo by Matt Cashore.
Father Arthur Joseph Ssembajja is a Catholic priest ordained by the Diocese of Kasese in Uganda. He holds a B.A. in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Urban University in Rome and a master of religious and theological studies from Makerere University in Uganda. Read more about his journey to Notre Dame, “Bigger and Better,” in the spring edition of Mendoza Business at bizmagazine.nd.edu.