52 years of Mission work in Northern Uganda

52 years of Mission work in Northern Uganda

Fr. Larem has lived and worked in Uganda for over 52 years and his love for missionary work began at a tender age. At the age of 10, He had already become an altar boy at Cadorago Parish in Italy and it was at this time that he felt the zeal of serving the Lord, God. He narrates that one-day, as he came out of the sacristy; he met with Fr. Giovanni Meloni who asked him if he wanted to join the Comboni. He was so excited about the idea that after a few days he could not hide his excitement anymore. He shared with his mother who was also more excited and encouraged him to go for it. Fr. Larem’s father was not excited about the news since he preferred him becoming a diocesan priest and he did not want to hear of the Comboni Missionaries!

Since Fr. Larem’s father was so bent on him joining the diocesan priest, he went to visit the monsignor and to ask him if his son would join the diocesan priests because he did not like the idea of his son becoming a Comboni priest. Nevertheless, the monsignor told him to leave the boy to make his own decision. And if he did not like to become a Comboni missionary, then he would return to being a diocesan priest and thus his father left his alone. At 10 years, Fr. Larem was admitted in the seminary at Crema. Fr. Larem completed primary school and had three years of junior school before joining the novitiate in 1954. When he was preparing to go to the noviate, his Spiritual Director took him to Lourdes and this is where his spiritual life begun. Unfortunately, in 1961 he lost his father but this did not stop him from pursuing his dream. His mother was a strong pillar in his life and vocation. She was always there to ensure that he was okay.

In 1963, Fr. Larem was ordained priest in Verona at the age of 27 years and was immediately assigned as a prefect at a Minor Seminary in Sulmona. It was a life changing moment for him since he was dealing with young boys yet the youngsters seemed not to listen and instead were more disobedient. When he was relieved of his duty as prefect, he told the Provincial Superior that he wanted to work in a mission. After a week, he received a letter to his new workstation, which was Uganda. He recalls that this was one of his happiest days in life since Uganda was a home of the Uganda martyrs and above all he was happy that he was going to work in the home of Jildo Irwa.

In 1964, him together with other newly ordained priests, were sent to London to learn English. When he advanced in English, he was asked to come to Uganda in 1965. His coming to Uganda was one of Fr. Larem’s happiest moments since his dream of working as a missionary had become fulfilled. Travelling to Rome to catch a flight to Uganda, he met a confrere who gave him the relics of St. Matia Mulumba and St. Kaloli Lwanga. This excited him the more because Uganda martyrs had been cannosised in 1964. They were nine priests who came to Uganda from Italy in 1965. When they arrived in Kampala, some were assigned to West Nile, others to Kabale, while he and a friend were sent to Gulu.

On reaching Gulu, they were taken to Kitgum to learn Acholi before being appointed to the various parishes they would work. Fr. Larem says, his memorable moment was on August 15, 1965 when they reached Kitgum and found the parishioners in a procession of Mary. There, he met with the late Fr. Romano Angelo who was supposed to be his Luo teacher. After a few months, Fr. Romano picked him from Kitgum and took him to Opit his appointed mission. He said that he lived in Opit for two years but life in Opit was so tough, but since it was part of his mission work, he was happy to stay there.

After those two years, the late Bishop Cesana appointed him as director of the Crusaders in Gulu diocese. Every Saturday and Sunday, he would visit different parishes where young boys and girls would gather for the crusader mission. His first meeting with the Crusaders was with Fr. Raphael Dibari who was killed in 2006. The young boys and girls used to call his predecessor Fr. Ladiro. So, when he left, the young boys and girls decided to give the new Director a nickname and they called him “Fr. Larem” literary meaning “my friend”. Thus his real name Fr. Clerici Giuseppe became unknown to many people he worked with. He was happy with the name given to him, and he adds that everything happens for a reason. His love for the people culminated into being named “Fr. Larem” and this name was his mission in Uganda and the Mission. In 1970 he returned to Italy for a break and upon his return to Uganda, he was appointed to found a new parish at Madi Opei in Kitgum district. He started building from scratch since there wasn’t any Fathers’ house. He opted to live with the people around the parish rather than a designated place for him. His experience in Madi Opei was a very interesting as it was the reason as to why he had come to Uganda. One of the problems there was lack of water: “Madi Opei lacked water and we used to go to a nearby army barracks to get water,” he said.

From the community, they moved and slept in a small chapel for three years until a house was built. A well was also dug up so they could get water. The other problem at Madi Opei was the long spells of drought, which caused hunger amongst the people and many people died because of hunger. Fr. Larem stayed in Madi Opei for 10 years and one thing he loved about Madi Opei were the people who were very good catechumens, who helped in evangelisation and humanitarian work. In 1976, Fr. Larem received a letter from then Minister of Internal affairs asking him to leave Uganda in three months or pay a fine of UGX: 10 Millions. At that time, 25 priests had been deported back to Italy, there was an acholi priest called Fr Odida Ceaser who loved him so much and promised that he would pray for him and that Fr Larem was not going to leave Uganda.

Fortunately, he never left Uganda as the Bishop of Gulu diocese then, Late Cyprian Kihangire intimated with the wives of Ali Fadul then an Army Chief of staff who intervened and he did no leave Uganda. Amidst his preparation to leave the country, he received a phone call from Gulu informing him not to leave but wait for a letter that two Sisters were bringing from Ali Fadul to the ministry of internal affairs. However, given the incident, Fr. Larem opted for a holiday in Italy and on return he completed the church he had started building in Madi Opei in 1978. In the same year, a war broke out and people ran away from the war. He noted that, building the church at Madi Opei was not easy since they had very little money, but it didn’t stop them from going on with the project. He added that it was a hustle but in the end, they received more money.

Bearing in mind that his mother was a strong pillar in his life, in 1977 before his threatened deportation, Fr. Larem’s mother, and his Parish Priest surprised him with a visit to his parish in Madi Opei. After completing the church at Madi Opei, he went for another holiday, when he returned to Uganda, he was transferred to Anaka with the late Fr. Aldo Pieragostini. The outspoken Fr. Larem said Anaka was his best mission, “Anaka was my best mission, I spent six years in Anaka and I was very happy”. Anaka was another place, which had many catechumens and he was happy that people would come in everyday. Fr. Larem recalls profoundly one expectant mother from Anaka who liked him so much during her pregnancy that she never missed mass. She once told her that when she gives birth, she brings forth the child to him. When she returned home on that day, she gave birth and named the baby Clerici Giuseppe Larem! He added that he has been very close to the people and interacted with them freely. “These people want to recognize my presence among them,” said Fr. Larem.

In his sixth year in Anaka that was in October 1986 at the height of the war the army convinced Fr. Larem and his colleague to leave the mission but they would not hear of it because they were worried about the people they would leave behind who always ran to the mission for security. They also got worried about who would run the mission if anyone wasn’t there. One day, on Christ the King Sunday while Fr. Larem was celebrating mass, a group of soldiers from Olwiyo came and surrounded Anaka mission. The soldiers walked up to Fr. Larem and Fr. Aldo and asked them to go with them but told them to carry their blankets because they would not return that night. They were put behind a track and driven away. While in the truck with the soldiers, he cried and talked to Jesus, “When I was in the truck, I was crying and told Jesus that you said, you had overcome bad things, why are we suffering like this,” Fr. Larem lamented. He however noted that, he got the reply from Jesus and he heard a voice telling him, “Dear Larem! My throne is a cross, my robe is my blood and my crown is made of thorns”. “The following morning, a soldier shouted at us to get ready, and we were then put behind a big truck and driven off to Gulu army barracks. We met Katumba Wamala and he was very kind to us. He asked the soldiers to release us but his juniors told him that we were Prisoners of War and they refused to release us,” added Fr. Larem. He added that they were accused of many crimes of financially supporting the rebels, giving them food and medicine. They told everybody who had come to visit them at the barracks that there was no mzungu there.

He also noted that while still in Anaka, a group of rebels raided the mission shooting at every door looting whatever they came across and they put him at gunpoint asking him to give them money or they would kill him. After a while, the brigadier informed them that they were going to be released but on condition that they leave Acholi sub-region and Anaka.  It was then that they were taken to Atapara in Aber Mission after one week. The rebels looted the mission of Atapara but he had already gone to Italy for holiday. While in Italy, he was convinced by some family members to visit Medugorje after all the trouble he had gone through. After a stressing time with the rebels in Anaka Parish and detention by the army in 1986, Fr. Larem decided to go to Italy for a holiday. While on holiday, some of his family members convinced him to go visit Medugorje. Fr. Larem notes that one evening while participating in a prayer of apparition led by one of the priest in one of the rooms at the Friar’s house, in Medugorje at 5:00 p.m. in the evening, one of his relatives asked him why he hadn’t gone inside the house of friars to assist in the apparition since he was a priest.

Since there were many people standing outside the house, he refused to go saying that Mother Mary could see him from wherever he was even outside the house. He noted that immediately after saying that, a friar came back and tapped his shoulder and said; “you are a priest come with me and see what is going to happen”. At that moment, he knew it was Devine intervention! At that time, he straight away thought to himself that it was a sign and a call from Mother Mary to do the will of God. So he couldn’t reject the call anymore but he just got up and joined him in the house. After his holiday in 1986, Fr. Larem was assigned at the Comboni Noviate in Vulgano Italy as a mission animator from 1986 to 1993. Fr. Larem asserts that the time he lived with the Comboni novices was a time of renewing his spiritual life. After his service at the noviate, he was re-appointed to Uganda.

However, the year in which he had planned to travel was the year in which his mother was seriously sick. The fact that he was so worried about his mother’s illness, he could not travel immediately. Every Sunday evening, he would celebrate mass for her at home. He said, one evening while having a conversation with her, he told her that he could not go back to Uganda even if he had been re-assigned to the mission, because he felt sad leaving her and was worried about leaving her when she was very sick and weak. Since his mother had always been a strong pillar in his

vocation, she told Fr. Larem that he could go back and if anything happened to her, his brothers would arrange and organize for her burial. “Go back to Uganda, your brothers will provide for my burial,” Fr. Larem’s mother told him. Unfortunately she died on August 5th 1993.

Fr. Larem said that after his mother’s death, he felt he should return to Uganda and continue doing God’s work, that is what his mother would have loved to see him do.

As soon as he returned to Uganda, he was assigned to Layibi Brothers Postulancy and with the commitment to rehabilitate the building completely destroyed by the insurgency. In 2010, Fr. Larem developed a complication. When he visited the hospital, it was discovered that he had an in

fection in his intestines; he came to Kampala so that this case could be investigated further. A diagnosis was done immediately and he notes the pain was so bad for him then. After the diagnosis, it was discovered that he had a cancer. After some time, Fr. Larem said a barium enema test was done and it came out with good results, everything was okay. At that time, he wanted to go back to Gulu for Christmas but the superiors told him that he needed to rest and he could not travel to Gulu. Fr. Larem said that was one of the sad days for him because he wanted to go and celebrate the birth of Jesus with people in Gulu. He said “I was so much discouraged that I went back to my room and I was complaining with Jesus telling him that, why don’t you want me to go to Gulu and celebrate your birthday with your people”.

Fr Larem narrated saying that he heard a voice speaking to him and he was sure it was Jesus who was answering him and telling him, “Larem! Once upon a time you were a good hoe and I used you for many things, now you are worn out like an old hoe, why don’t you accept to be old and rest? I was the one who used you for my Kingdom!” Fr. Larem admits that this was a great lesson of faith for him and he accepted to be a pure instrument and not a protagonist. He goes on to say that after receiving the message, he changed his mind about going to Gulu and decided to remain in Kampala for Christmas.

In 2013, Fr. Larem was re-assigned to the Provincial house in Kampala where he is still serving the confrere and visitors. He thanks God for the many gifts he gave him and notes that God has done many marvelous things with him. “In 2013, I was asked to move to the provincial house where I am serving the confreres and visitors. Like many, I must thank God for the so many gifts he gave me; He has done so many marvelous things with me,” Fr. Larem concluded.

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