Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, has spent much of his public ministry over the last 13 years saving the lives of thousands of children at risk of war and violence.
He has advocated for the kids to world leaders, acted as a human shield in war-torn areas of northern Uganda, called for negotiations with rebels and reached across religious and ethnic lines to organize peace initiatives to teach the way of nonviolence in the face of atrocities.
His work has not gone unnoticed.
The award recognizes peace-builders who work without much fanfare in forgotten areas of the world.
Archbishop Odama promised to work for peace, especially on behalf of children, during his installation in 1999 as leader of the Gulu Archdiocese.
I have had the opportunity to interview Archbishop Odama twice during my career: once during a visit to St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Cleveland Diocese several years ago and in 2009 at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
During both interviews it was readily apparent that Archbishop Odama’s desire for peace consumed his spirit. It was the children who were his utmost concern because they were the most at risk in the face of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army led by John Kony.
Since forming in 1987 the LRA has forced as many as 100,000 children to join their ranks and participate in vicious raids on villages across central Africa. Girls often were taken as sex slaves for Kony and his lieutenants.
His most impassioned plea, though, was made to the U.S. and other governments: End the flow of arms into the region. Without armaments, he said, the region’s violence would diminish and people could once again live in peace and without fear.
For the time being Kony’s forces are out of Uganda, but have not disappeared altogether. Archbishop Odama continues to organize people, on faith-based grounds, to resist the violence through nonviolent means.
At last week’s award ceremony he repeated his desire “to always be consumed in the struggle for promoting peace.”
“My wish for peace is not only for this area, it is for the whole country of Uganda and also for the continent,” he said, according to information received from World Vision. “I consistently refer to other areas which are affected by war, to my people. Let us be in solidarity with them. We pray for them, we keep asking that God inspires people who will bring peace in those areas.”
May peace be with you, archbishop.