LUWEERO, Uganda — Catholics from Mary Mother of Divine Shepherd Mulajje Parish in central Uganda are worried about losing their church and all properties after one of the families that donated the land to the church years ago began to repossess it.
The parish is one among hundreds of Catholic churches in the East African country that continue to lose chunks of donated land due to the lack of proper documentation.
In some instances, churches have been demolished and parishioners evicted, attracting countrywide condemnation from religious leaders, human rights activists, politicians, and President Yoweri Museveni. Residents have also repossessed land from other religions, including Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists and the Seventh-day Adventists.
“What’s happening in our country is evil. Why have people lost respect for God?” wondered catechist Isaac Tumwesige from the Archdiocese of Tororo in eastern Uganda. “Everyone wants to repossess the lands they donated to the church so that they can sell it to get money. Those are forces of darkness bringing such kind of greed. I fear that we are going to lose most of our churches, and this might affect the parishioners who will be forced to walk for kilometers before they can get another church to worship.”
Mulajje, the second oldest Catholic parish in the Kasana-Luweero Diocese, was established a century ago after well-wishers donated the land. Since then, the parish has grown and even constructed schools, more subparishes, and health centers to serve residents.
“It’s disheartening to learn that we might lose our church and properties that have been constructed in the said land,” said 65-year-old Joseph Mayeku, a parishioner at Mulajje. “The government should intervene to help us recover the land that has already been repossessed and protect the land that people want to repossess.”
Bishop Paul Ssemogerere of Kasana-Luweero said one of the families who had donated more than 60 acres to the parish had already repossessed 45 acres through the court process. Bishop Ssemogerere said lack of proper documentation led to the loss of land.
“It’s us to blame for losing these lands, because we didn’t do proper documentation after they were donated to us,” said Ssemogerere, noting that the conflict was being brought by children and grandchildren of people who donated the land and later died before handing over land documents to the church. “Since most people who donated the land died a long time ago, their families are now taking advantage of lack of proper documentation by the church to reclaim the land. Unfortunately, they are winning cases and repossessing the lands.”
“It’s regrettable to take land that had been donated to the church to serve residents. People should have humanity and fear of God. Whatever they are doing is against the will of God,” he added.
Uganda, with more than 45 million people, has had several land disputes centered on prime land belonging to churches, hospitals, and schools run by religious institutions. In many instances, families who have been donating land to the church have won the cases, repossessing the land, thus forcing the churches to close.
Ssemogerere urged the government to intervene and the church officials to start getting the title deeds to avoid being evicted by families of the people who donated the land. He said already some parishes were battling with cases in courts to protect their churches from being closed or demolished. One church already lost 150 acres of land following a long battle with the family of the person who had donated it to the church.
“As a church, we need to act quickly to save our churches,” said Ssemogerere.
Tom Kutosi, a resident in Mbale in eastern Uganda, said he had filed a case against one of the Catholic churches in the region to repossess the land his father donated to the church.
“We were not consulted as a family before this land was donated to the church,” said the 35-year-old father of three, noting that the land is more than 25 acres. “We want our land back. The problem in this country has been one of the family members donating land to the church without consulting other members of the family.”