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Faith group helps with purchase of land, plants in Uganda

The hard work and intense study at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary is nearly over for Deacon Joe Lugalambi, a native of Uganda who is serving at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.

He'll be ordained a priest in August in his home diocese and serve the people there.

Until recently, only a few people knew of some of the hardships that entails. Priests ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Louis have a place to live, a modest salary and benefits such as health care and a retirement plan. Not so for a priest in the Masaka Diocese in Africa where Deacon Lugalambi will serve.

He hasn't fretted about it, however. He has an agricultural background and figured he'll earn money to buy two to three acres of land and grow coffee plants. Within about five years he could financially sustain himself as a priest from the proceeds. He also would like to purchase a motor scooter to travel among the 15 parishes he is expected to serve and plans to teach people to become self-sufficient through growing coffee plants.

An acre of land and the materials he needs costs about $1,700. He knows he'd have to work hard to save enough to buy the land. He's used to hard work, though. Deacon Lugalambi, 29, grew up in a family with seven children. His parents grow corn, plantains, potatoes and coffee on four acres of land. One of his tasks was to ride a bicycle to fetch water from a village three miles away.

Through generosity of men at Seven Holy Founders Parish, Deacon Lugalambi's future farm is a reality.

The Strengthen Your Brother men's ministry at the Affton parish helped raise enough money to buy three acres of Uganda farmland for Deacon Lugalambi.

Their motivation came after Deacon Joe Lugalambi spoke at one of their gatherings earlier this year, when he discussed what it's like to be a Catholic man of faith in Uganda.

Deacon Lugalambi faith was strengthened while attending a Muslim school in Uganda and by the chance offer of an invitation to finish his training in St. Louis. He tells of Catholic students being mistreated by teachers and other students at the Muslim grade school he attended. The associate pastor of his parish became aware of the problem. The priest appealed to school authorities and the situation improved. That priest's example and serving at an ordination Mass provided the motivation for Deacon Lugalambi's vocation.

A couple of the men at Seven Holy Founders asked him to discuss his plans to provide for himself, since they knew that priests in Uganda get no financial support.

Once they heard his story, the men decided to help Deacon Lugalambi. "We took one of the empty plastic coffee cans we had from our meetings and, unbeknownst to Deacon Joe, the men throw in some spare change at the meeting" to help him at least buy an acre of land, said Bill Lampe, one of the founders of the group. What happened next wasn't quite the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but there was an unexpected multiplier effect.

An anonymous donor offered to match the amount if they raised enough money for one acre. Then, members of the parish Society of St. Vincent DePaul conference donated funds as well. The anonymous donor then agreed to fund the purchase of two acres.

Last month they presented Deacon Lugalambi with funds for three acres and coffee plants. "We are proud to say that we have helped plant our faith through a young seminarian in not only another country but another continent," Lampe said

Tom Meyer, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish who introduced the group to Deacon Lugalambi, said he was overwhelmed with the response. Deacon Lugalambi "was very modest," Meyer said. "He did not go to the meeting requesting donations. He's just a warm person, fun to be around."

The donation from the men's group was "a great surprise and is so special," Deacon Lugalambi said.

He enjoys the men's group at Seven Holy Founders because it stresses the need for lay men, particularly fathers, to be witnesses to their faith. "Fatherhood means not only providing for the family physically but spiritually by striving for heaven," Deacon Lugalambi said.

He has adjusted well to St. Louis — especially as a fan of Ted Drewes frozen custard and pork steaks and in his lifetime love of soccer. "It's really a blessing to be at Kenrick," he said citing his professors' efforts in integrating studies, spirituality and parish life.

About 5,000 people will attend his ordination Mass in Uganda. His first Mass will be at his parents' house, with about 2,000 people expected, including Muslim friends. 

Strengthen Your Brother

The Strengthen Your Brother men's ministry at Seven Holy Founders Parish, which began in September of 2011, meets every other Saturday from 7 to 7:59 a.m. They generally have a discussion on a book or topic, with the Book of Matthew the latest topic. An optional praying of the Rosary precedes the meeting. About 80 men are on the email list from a variety of parishes, with about half that number attending on a given Saturday.

Occasionally the group does charitable acts, but the focus is on giving men a time to pray and to discuss life from a Catholic, spiritual perspective.

It is named after Luke 22:32: "... but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

For information about the group, call Bill Lampe at (314) 540-3651.

To help

In addition to Strengthen Your Brother's donation for Deacon Joseph Lugalambi, St. Francis of Assisi Parish raised funds to present to him at a farewell reception. Checks may be made payable to St. Francis of Assisi with Deacon Joe on the memo line and sent to the parish at 4556 Telegraph Road, St. Louis, MO 63129. Donations also may be made online at www.stlouisreview.com/b6g 

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