Teen’s trip to Uganda boosts resolve to ‘make a difference’

Photo Caption: Brian Kearney of El Paso is shown with students in Uganda. He shares experiences of his monthlong trip on an online blog here.

EL PASO — This summer, 17-year-old Brian Kearney said goodbye to his parents and girlfriend and boarded an airplane alone on a journey that would take him for a month to the central African nation of Uganda.

Inspired by the work of Father Dennis Abigaba — a priest from Uganda who had visited his parish of St. Mary, El Paso, and became friends with his family — Brian volunteered to visit two schools that the parish has helped support in recent years.

From July 17 to Aug. 18, Brian taught English at a secondary school, St. Michael’s, and met and befriended children at a primary school called Marie Saedes Sapietiae (Mary Seat of Wisdom). The schools are located in Rubirizi, a town in Archdiocese of Mbarara.

“My motivation was that these children needed help and they needed to see that Americans, especially Catholic Americans, care,” said Brian, now 18 and a senior at El Paso-Gridley. Since his trip, that motivation has “intensified greatly and I hope to help these schools and schools like them for the rest of my life.”

Brian chronicled his trip online at brianskearney.blogspot.com. On the blog, he shares impressions of the “great joy and great need” he experienced in a culture so different from our own. He tells of a Mass that lasted four hours (including a 71-minute homily), describes the “hideous living conditions” of the rural poor, recounts delightful interactions with the children, and most importantly relates the positive impact that help from his parish has had on the schools.

The son of Kevin and Kim Kearney and active at Epiphany Life Teen in Normal, Brian hopes to study philanthropy after graduation with the goal of starting a not-for-profit company to “make a difference and be a missionary.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Catholic Post recommends a reading of Brian’s blog, especially with the approach of World Mission Sunday on Oct. 20. Meanwhile, we invited Brian to answer a few questions about his trip:

Why did you choose to travel alone? How supportive (or worried!) were your parents?

It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, but not one I would recommend to others on their first trip overseas. My parents were incredibly supportive. I was blessed with parents that trusted me and God enough to let their youngest, still a minor, go overseas to a place they knew nothing about.

When friends ask you about the trip, what are the top one or two things you always tell them?

I tell them of the joy I saw in these people and that it was an experience of a lifetime. Then I tell them we will talk in depth later or to ask questions because I don’t know where to start. There is so much to tell.

What did the trip teach you about the diversity of the Catholic faith?

It taught me that the Catholic faith is truly catholic. It is universal like I was told. Most people think of Italy and Europe when they imagine the Church being universal, and I used to also, but it was amazing to see it so alive in a Third World country.
We are very philosophical about our faith in the U.S. which is good, but in Uganda they live their faith, and life, in constant danger, so they have to have faith in God. They are around death so much and knowing that there is a better life after this one is what keeps these amazing people going. They arrive to Mass 40 minutes early, which is quite a feat because they have to walk miles, in 102-degree heat, with no shoes. The faith they show is incredible.

On your blog, you mentioned several things you hope to continue to do to help the schools, including a well and rain collection effort, as well as obtaining desks. Any progress?

I have progress on desks. A donor is giving very many desks, white boards, chalk boards and school supplies. The only problem is I have to get my non-profit up and going by next summer, and figure out a way to ship those items over there. I know if it is God’s will it will be possible though. I ask you and anyone who reads this to please pray for the non-profit and those children.

What other ways can readers of The Catholic Post help? You mentioned pen pals, for example.

I will be figuring out pen pals and if anyone has a CCD class, classroom, or if a family wants to help send me an email and I will see what I can do. (An email address for Brian’s family is journal@fairpoint.net, put “Uganda” in the subject line.) The best way to help, though, is to go to Uganda and let them know you care by showing them you do, I know that is not possible for many people so you can help by donating supplies or funds to the right places. I encourage you to be careful of where you send your money. It is very corrupt in Uganda and it helps to know someone in Uganda that is trustworthy.

Other than traveling to mission lands, what are your hobbies?

I love to be outdoors and read. I love being outdoors because I feel at peace and close to God and I love reading because it takes you to a different world. You can be anything and learn anything by choosing the right book.

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