Missionaries of St Charles – Scalabrini Fathers – Uganda


The phenomenon of migration in Uganda, mostly by refugees, has been one of the most relevant and pressing issues for a long time now, it is a phenomenon that is destined to determine, in the most significant way, the future of this Country. This is because most refugees do not desire to go back to their countries of origin, even if/when peace is restored. The most obvious challenges that this phenomenon produces are political and these could be solved at the political level. However, many other challenges and problems that these refugees face are not political but rather human, which has to do with the encounter and interaction of people coming from different countries, with diverse cultures and speaking different languages. The Europe–Africa region of St John Baptist Scalabrini could not remain silent and instead, it began to interrogate itself about the meaning of this phenomenon and the response that it is called to give. That is why in 2023 a mission was opened in Uganda to be at the service of refugees and migrants in two Dioceses, namely: the Arua Diocese and the Archdiocese of Kampala. These two aforementioned dioceses have two different realities of refugees and migrants. Basically, the Archdiocese of Kampala, being the capital city of Uganda, has the presence of economic migrants and urban refugees from different countries within the region, while the Arua diocese has refugees from South Sudan, who are hosted in settlements. 

1. Kampala

 1.1. Migratory activities in Kampala 

In the Archdiocese of Kampala, the care for migrants and refugees is carried out by different organizations including Catholic Faith-based organizations such as; the Justice and Peace Department of Caritas Kampala, St John Paul II, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), just to name a few. These organizations offer a wide range of services ranging from material assistance, and empowerment to legal and documentation assistance. The Catholic migrants and refugees have encountered the solicitudes of both priests and some parishes. We have witnessed priests who have opened the doors to their parishes and given the migrants and refugees spaces for celebrating the Eucharist as well as for other social activities. Furthermore, some priests dedicate their time to accompany these communities through the celebration of the sacraments in the native languages of migrants and refugees, as well as offering spiritual guidance. Celebrating the Eucharist in their native languages allows Catholic migrants and refugees to feel at home and to pray according to their culture. 

While we acknowledge the steps taken and the great work that the Archdiocese has done so far in responding to the challenges posed by the phenomenon of migration, it is important to understand that there is still more work to be done. There is a need to develop this pastoral care into a more structured and organized migratory pastoral care. As of now, migratory pastoral care consists of individual priests’ or small group initiatives, who are often times motivated by a particular sensitivity towards the migrants and refugees. The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Kampala is the biggest Archdiocese in Uganda and is located in the capital city of the country, the center of the country’s economy. This simply means that it will continue to receive more and more migrants and refugees, hence the need for the Archdiocese to construct a more structured and well-established pastoral care. 

1.2. Activities of the missionaries 

The Congregation received a mandate from the Archbishop of Kampala, to assist the Archdiocese to come up with a well-structured pastoral care of migrants and refugees. At the moment, the missionaries are working closely with the pastoral coordinator to come up with a real pastoral plan for the Archdiocese for the service of migrants and refugees. The missionaries are in the first stage of the plan, which is the mapping, in order to come up with the real picture of the presence of migrants and refugees in Kampala and the surrounding areas. Besides collaborating with the Archdiocese, the missionaries are conducting the need assessment, to come up with their own migratory pastoral project which will respond to the needs of the refugees and migrants in the Capital city of Uganda. 

2. Adjumani

 2.2. Context of Adjumani 

Northern Uganda, more so the West Nile where Adjumani is located, is one of the regions that have a sensitive history of war and rebel activities. Within that context, the area has been very underdeveloped. The area has been struggling with poor infrastructure such as limited schools, and poor hospitals, as well as many other development challenges that have left the people in abject poverty. Being close to one of the newest countries of the world, South Sudan, the West Nile, and Adjumani district in particular, where our refugee service project is situated, is also affected by the continued conflict taking place in South Sudan. Adjumani receives constantly refugees fleeing from the war in South Sudan. Today Adjumani alone is hosting a total of 360,000 refugees and asylum seekers as per UNHCR/OPM Refugee Information Management System. Although the number of refugee influx has reduced, refugees continue to sneak in raging 

between 400 – 800 on a daily basis at Nyumanzi reception centre. The number of refugees in this Adjumani District surpasses that of the host community which amounts to approximately 235,000. 

2.3. The refugees we serve 

The largest number of refugees in Adjumani district constitutes about 98% of South Sudanese while the other 2% is made up of refugees coming from Sudan. In all the refugee settlements, the Ugandan government together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have distributed the refugees according to their ethnic groups and tribes to avoid tribal conflicts because these are the same tribes and ethnic groups that are waging conflict back in their home countries. However, all the refugees, regardless of their tribes and ethnic groups, have the same challenges, and that sometimes makes them forget about their inter-tribal and ethnic hatred to come together as one people. 

The common challenges faced by the refugees in different settlements, among others, are limited resources for their livelihood and other social services such as health and education facilities, and good roads, among others. These refugee settlements are mostly populated by women, children, and the youth. Women in this context suffer a lot as they are the ones to look for the next meal to feed their families. The youth, on the other hand, remain unemployed due to their lack of skills, as well as the lack of employment opportunities. Due to the lack of constructive activities for them, the youth resort to drug and alcohol abuse, early marriages as well as early pregnancies for the girl child. Youths are rushed into being heads of their families or households. For example, a young girl/boy as young as 15 years old leads 3 or more children under her/his care. The burden is disturbing such that some refugees remain with sad traumatic experiences while others end up committing suicide. 

2.4. Our service to refugees in the settlement 

As Missionaries of St Charles – Scalabrinians, serving the South Sudan refugees in settlements, our area of engagement is twofold; on one hand, we are fully engaged in serving, ministering, and accompanying the refugees pastorally. This entails taking care of the spiritual well-being of the refugees by celebrating Sacraments, and pastoral visits for the sick, people with disabilities, as well as the elderly who need prayers. Our Pastoral ministry is extended to the pupils at Saint’Edigio School of Peace (which is the only catholic school in the Nyumanzi settlement) for mass and other spiritual activities. On the other hand, we provide some small social services within our means and capacity, and with the funding from other Scalabrinian missions and 

parishes in Europe. Among the few social projects so far implemented are the Secondary school scholarships given to some pupils, the English language programs to women, and the mental health and psycho-social support. Our insertion in some of these issues of concern has been gradual. To contribute to this mission, there is a need for us as missionaries of St. Charles to establish ourselves permanently in this area. 

In collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister of Uganda, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the local government of the district of Adjumani, Scalabrini fathers in Uganda, have been given the right to use a space in the settlement. This structure will be used for the implementation of some social projects, to uphold the human dignity of the refugees in that settlement. 


It has been a little over a year now, (11th January 2024 marked exactly one year), since the mission in Uganda was opened. We have lived our daily lives with refugees and gained some knowledge of their reality, and we have become aware of their socio-economic, spiritual, and psychological needs. The needs assessment carried out by one of the missionary groups working with the Refugees and Migrants in Uganda (the Missionaries of Africa) reveals six major areas of concern that cut across the reality of the life of the refugees we serve in Uganda, and these are as follows: 

  1. Spiritual and pastoral services by the Church. 
  2. Psycho-social needs for those experiencing the traumas of life away from their homeland. 
  3. Livelihood needs for social and material welfare. 
  4. Health. 
  5. Education. 
  6. Need for a peaceful co-existence, including conflict management among the refugee communities themselves and in their relationship with the host communities surrounding them. 

As Missionaries of St Charles, we don’t pretend to answer to every need of migrants and refugees in the first year of our mission in this country, but we plan to come up with a clear pastoral and social plan/structure to be implemented in the near future and used to address each and every one of their needs. 

Fr John Kawisha, cs