The Catholic Church in Uganda is filled with joy as descendants of missionary Simeon Lourdel, locally known as Mapeera, visit the country.
Mapeera, a young Catholic missionary priest from the Missionary of Africa also known as White Fathers, is praised to have planted the seed of the Catholic faith in Uganda, and Equatorial Africa.
He was also instrumental in converting many of the young pages that later became martyrs. A source at the Catholic Secretariat in Nsambya said that the descendants, led by Marlene Lee, 46, a great-great-grandniece of Mapeera, embarked on a pilgrimage to the country where their beloved ancestor dedicated his entire youthful life and eventually passed away.
"The group includes some members of Mrs Lee's family. They came for a private visit, but also to participate in the Uganda Martyrs' Day celebration. The delegation was led by a Ugandan priest. It is worth noting that this is the first time a relative of Pere Mapeera has visited Uganda," the source explained.
The source noted that Marlene Lee, is a great-great-granddaughter of Clement Lourdel (1850-1940). Clement himself was the son of Albert Lourdel (1884-1888), who was an older brother to Simon Lourdel Mapeera.
While Mapeera originated from France, URN understands that some of his family members later moved to Canada. It is now understood that Marlene Lee, who is visiting, holds Canadian nationality.
The arrival of Mapeera's family member holds significance beyond mere coincidence, as the French priest has been put forth as a candidate for the beatification process, a matter of great interest to his family members.
The beatification cause was initiated in 1987 by Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga, marking the beginning of the formal process to consider Mapeera for beatification. However, the momentum behind the cause has picked up more recently, and in 2018, the Church submitted the gathered data to Rome for review and further evaluation.
In Uganda, the influence of the French missionary can be observed in numerous aspects of the culture. His name is prominently present in Catholic hymns, and many children are named after him as a testament to his significance.
Additionally, various schools, streets, roads, and buildings in Uganda have been named in his honour, reflecting the lasting impact he made on the country which has over 40 per cent of its population as Roman Catholics.
Without a doubt, Mapeera is the most prominent Catholic missionary in Uganda and has since earned the title "Apostle of Uganda," a name derived from a book written by Armand Duval. His friendly demeanor and ability to connect with the people of Buganda led to his widespread popularity, and he became known as Mapeera, derived from the French words "Mon père," meaning "my father."
On February 17, 1879, Lourdel arrived in Uganda along with Brother Delmas Amans, leaving their other companions and their leader behind as they embarked on their mission. In addition to spreading the gospel, throughout thick and thin, Mapeera was liked by kings; Mwanga and Muteesa serving as both their doctor and advisor.
He played a pivotal role in the early establishment and growth of Catholicism in Uganda. He is credited with conducting the first mass in Uganda and baptizing many of the first converts to the Catholic faith. Additionally, he dedicated his efforts to teaching the initial group of catechumens.
Through Mapeera's dedication and the perseverance of the Catholic community, records indicate that by 1890, despite facing persecution in 1886, the number of baptized Catholics had reached around 1,200, with an additional 10,000 individuals in the process of becoming catechumens. - URN/The Observer