St. Francis UGANDA

Family Helper Programme

Registered charity
Ireland CHY18409, Uganda S5917/278, UK 1079811
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Is Spirituality Important in an African—Ugandan Organisation

“A life not reflected upon is not worth living.” St. Augustine .
Here in St. Francis, it is our practice every morning to start the day together with a mindfulness exercise. The intention is twofold.  Being together as a staff, each morning, creates a good connection at the beginning of each day.  The practice itself helps us to focus, to get in touch with our wisdom source, and acts as a reminder that when we make choices or decisions, emerging from our personal and collective inner wisdom, we shall make fewer mistakes.
Culturally and practically, Ugandans are members of some religious body—mostly Christian and Muslim. It is not difficult to discern that ritual practices in any religion can become mechanical and do not always emerge from a reflective place. It is also common knowledge that here in Uganda (as in America right now and in some other countries of this and other continents) we have to deal with a culture of dishonesty and corruption.  So how can we go against the tide and make choices for integrity and honesty?  Jack Kornfield, a psychologist and spiritual teacher, tells a story that when he went looking for a teacher of the spiritual path, the teacher said to him:”You must first ensure that you do not kill, do not lie and do not steal”.  Without this foundation one cannot progress in a spiritual path.
When a person is focused, mindful and fully aware it is difficult to rob or harm another person. Perhaps one of our hopes in St. Francis is that we might all learn the art of mindfulness, of presence with one another, of focusing on what we do and in putting a stop to harmful practices in our lives.  Whether this happens or not we shall continue to invite our members to cultivate mindfulness and presence.
To give everyone a chance to learn more and to lead the practice, we take turns and every department leads this exercise for a week. Some staff members report that they feel more focused in other areas of their lives, e.g. the work place and family life, and even become more effective. This is surely a desirable effect.
Some newcomers to the practice of mindfulness think that they must “pray” before or after the exercise.  This is because we were accustomed to reciting set prayers or passages from Scripture. After sometime all realize that whether we pray silently or out loud, in addressing our God, the prayer will be pretty useless without our being present and mindful.  We have all agreed that we do not need to remind God to be mindful so the exercise of prayer requires mindfulness as a foundation and can actually be one and the same practice.
Apart from the morning exercise we have introduced the practice of mindfulness into all our departmental outreach and training programmes. When children and parents come to St. Francis during the holidays, the staff of the Child Sponsorship Department introduces this practice before the general meetings.
Both Sr. Christine and Mary have been trained by trainers from Plum Village in France and the founder and teacher of that tradition claims that when I am truly mindful of and truly present to another human being, then I cannot do harm to that person either in speech or in action. If that could be the outcome of a mindfulness practice for all of us, then surely it would be very worthwhile as so many of us are seduced by the invitations of today’s world, to get what we want by any means, just or unjust, honest or dishonest.  The temptation to dishonesty is very rife in our present day Uganda. Unfortunately we have too many examples all around us, from our leaders and our teachers.
Mindfulness practice helps us to grow in awareness of the above facts and to stay present while we choose an action.  When we become more aware of our co-workers, of their lives, of their suffering there is a big probability that we can also become more empathic and compassionate. As the staff of St. Francis includes people of different religions, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, the practice of mindfulness helps each one to pray to reflect to internalize in his or her own tradition and this is a very unifying factor in a world which is so divided, often, along religious grounds.
This year of 2017 began with a day of recollection and this was a good experience for all of us.  In the past we have returned to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays without any meaningful ritual to of togetherness or connection. This day, therefore was very special, and hopefully will be the beginning of many such days for the staff of our organization.
Having been well trained in the Plum Village tradition, we began the day with 30 minutes of meditation with some instructions on the four foundations of mindfulness—Mindfulness of the Body, Mindfulness of Feelings, Mindfulness of Thoughts and States of Consciousness, and Mindfulness of the Objects of our Mind or Mental Formations.

There was some time for private contemplation, a talk on Stages of Spiritual Development, lunch in silence where we were able to practice mindful eating.
After lunch we had a communal sharing where each one who so desired was able to share his or own spiritual desires and/or difficulties in living mindfully.
After this the whole staff practiced mindful walking around the playing field and we ended the day with a Mass celebrated by Father Ferdinand Tillmann.  During Mass there was singing and dancing.
The day ended with a cup of tea and biscuits together. We played and sang this song by Brother Chi Sing.

"One Heart"
One Heart, One Life
We are One Family, One Earth
One Heart, One Life
We are One Family, One Earth

And together we can make a difference in our world
Every creed and colour, every boy and girl
All of Creation, no separation
We are One, One Heart

And even though it seems we are so far apart
And many times we're feeling all alone
The truth of who we are has been here from the start
We are One Heart

St. Francis Family Helper Programme
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(CroDodo, 2013 ~ 2024)