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Lay Catholic’s Envisioned Retreat Centre to Reignite Spiritual Formation in Uganda

Javis Mugagga, founder of St. Kizito Leadership Institute poses with Missionary Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church in the Catholic Diocese of Lira, Uganda./ Credit: Javis Mugagga/St. Kizito Leadership Institute

Javis Mugagga’s goal to become a Catholic Priest may have been thwarted by his family but his desire to reignite the spirit of Evangelization, Education and Entrepreneurship in Uganda remains intact.

Born in a polygamous family of 35 children in the East African country, Mr. Mugagga spent all his holidays at the Parish with his uncle who was a Priest in the Archdiocese of Kampala. There, he nurtured the dream to become a Catholic Priest until it dawned on him that with unwedded parents, he could not be accepted into Priestly formation in Uganda.

Still, the married father of two considers himself an instrument in God’s hands, “perhaps called to serve God’s people differently.”

In Uganda, Mr. Mugagga is running a vibrant evangelization ministry in seminaries, Dioceses and Catholic schools with the aim of setting on fire the spirit of discipleship in the Church, as the 34-year-old puts it.

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“I don’t know about other places but I feel that discipleship is lukewarm in Uganda. Christianity is regarded as a mere fulfilment of duty where people only go to Church on Sunday. I believe the Sunday one-hour Holy Mass is not enough,” Mr. Mugagga tells ACI Africa in an interview Thursday, July 22.

About 10 years ago, the Ugandan-born lay Catholic who had just graduated from university helped to coordinate a retreat for Priests that had been organized in the Archdiocese of Kampala. He remembers the topics that were addressed by by Fr. David Beauvais, Dr.Owen Phelps, and Dick Kunnert. The three came from the Catholic Diocese of Rockford in Illinois, U.S”.

“The Priests were taught about Priestly formation and how a Priest leads like Jesus,” Mr. Mugagga says, recalling the three-day event that happened in 2012.

The 2012 retreat and the correspondence with Fr. Beauvais & Dick that followed was, however, only a boost to the spirit of evangelization that Mugagga had carried for many years.

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“I have a strong Catholic background that can be traced to my grandmother who gave my father and her other son to the Church to become Priests. My father left Priesthood formation but he brought us up in a way that kept us devoted Catholics. The other people I met along the way only helped to water the seed that had been planted in me a long time ago by my grandmother,” he shares.

He terms the 2012 encounter as an eye-opener, one that led him to establish an evangelization ministry that targets those in Priestly formation, women and men Religious, Clergy as well as lay people in the Church. The 10-year-old ministry also targets Catholic schools in Uganda.

“After the retreat with Priests in 2012, I felt like I wanted to do more and so I kept in touch with Fr. Beauvais and Mr. Kunnert who supported me in my vision to evangelize,” he says, adding that the two evangelizers from Rockford Diocese started sharing their expertise and Catholic instructional materials with which he has used over the years to run St. Kizito Leadership Institute.

“I started with St. Mary’s Seminary. I approached the Seminarians and told them my story, about my upbringing and my witness about Jesus Christ,” Mugagga tells ACI Africa in the July 22 interview.

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He adds, “I was driven by the message of Pope Francis who talks about the Missionary Disciple and the need to always be in the state of mission.”

Eventually, Mr. Mugagga co-founded St. Kizito Leadership Institute, which specializes in education, evangelization and entrepreneurship.

The entity has organized various retreats and seminars targeting women and men Religious and others in leadership positions, especially those in Catholic institutions.

Last year alone, before the Ugandan government declared the COVID-19 lockdown, Mr. Mugagga and his team of volunteers of St. Kizito Leadership Institute worked with the Education Secretariat of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) to deliver 35 separate trainings that targeted school headteachers and board of governors  in 20 Catholic Dioceses of Uganda.

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“Fr. Ronald Okello of the Education Secretariat of the Uganda Episcopal Conference was very helpful to us and he organized the Catholic schools to attend our trainings,” Mr. Mugagga says, adding that the education apostolate continued in March this year with the volunteers going to Catholic schools in the Diocese of Kasese.

Each school sends the school head teacher, the Chaplain and Director of studies to attend the trainings that are hinged on leadership and capacity development in Catholic schools.

Mr. Mugagga notes that Catholic schools in Uganda have a huge gap in terms of mentoring confident leaders.

“Children in our Catholic schools are very timid. They don’t readily offer to take up leadership roles starting with prefects of various classes to head boys and head girls,” he says, and explains, “There is a school I know of that could not get a head girl from the Catholic students. Only Protestants and Muslims offered to take the leadership role. The situation was so serious that the Education Secretariat of the Uganda Episcopal Conference decreed that all Catholic schools in the country must be headed by a Catholic student.”

The school head teacher, the Chaplain and Director of studies who undergo training by St. Kizito Leadership Institute are expected to build leadership capacities in their schools.

Mr. Mugagga notes that Chaplains of Catholic schools in Uganda limit their role to just celebrating Holy Mass. He underscores the need for the Priests to be also involved deeply with the character formation of students.

Four months ago, Fr. Beauvais and Mr. Kunnert helped St. Kizito Leadership Institute acquire seven acres of land on which a spiritual centre named Beauvais Retreat Centre is to be built, we plan to break ground on 2 June 2022, Mr. Mugagga says.

The retreat centre, he adds, will focus on spiritual formation, leadership development and vocation training targeting Seminarians, women and men Religious, the Clergy as well as the Laity.

“We will offer tailored programs for Priests, Seminarians, Religious people and lay people. We hope to outsource for various Dioceses according to their specific needs and to partner with other institutions including universities, businesses and spiritual centres to help animate the programs,” he tells ACI Africa.

The 34-year-old communication professional with Cornerstone Development Africa also envisions to devote more time to the evangelization ministry.

“Juggling between my full-time job and the ministry has not been easy. I hope that someday I will be able to devote my time fully to the service of the Church,” he says.

Mr. Mugagga also struggles to get the resources to run the activities of the organization. He says, “There are times that I needed to hire a sound system for a retreat but because I didn’t have enough, I ended up enlisting services of a poor-quality system that failed us during the retreat. We struggle to finance many other activities.”

The other challenge is the transfers of Chaplains in Catholic schools, Mr. Mugagga says, and explains, “Sometimes, we train school chaplains who end up being transferred to other places and new ones are brought so we go through the whole process again. But it is gratifying to know that when they go away, they take with them the best practices we instill in our training.”

He also notes the difficulty in getting the people to embrace discipleship more fully and to go beyond “merely attending Church service on Sunday.”