To whom do we give thanks?
Recently, Msgr. Matthew Odong, who is on our Board of Advisors, was here raising funds for Hope for Uganda, the local organization that supports his work in Uganda. In his speech, he spoke of his great admiration for the United States, and of how blessed we are to live in this country. With Thanksgiving approaching, I asked him if he would reiterate some of his comments in print, so that we could be mindful of them at this time. This is what he wrote:
“The fourth Thursday of the month of November is considered special in the United States of America. It is an annual family get-together to celebrate the Blessings that God has bestowed on this Great Nation. Family members working far away from home often fly, or drive from one State to another, for a reunion with their families on Thanksgiving Day.
“I have always been impressed by the expression of faith found on your currency: “In God We Trust,” and by the words of your Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation under God.” Your Founding Fathers believed that God had been part and parcel of the long journey of the American people right from the time the pilgrims traveled from different parts of Europe to come and form a new nation in pursuit of Liberty, Opportunity, and Justice for all. It was their belief that the God who was with His people on the long journey to Freedom was the same God who blessed His people with abundance. This is the reason for the Thanksgiving celebration. When I compare the economic state of the United States of America with those of other countries, including African countries, America is far ahead and better.
“I was born, raised and educated in Uganda, and in Nairobi, Kenya, (for my philosophical, theological and University studies), and ordained a Catholic Priest for the Archdiocese of Gulu, Uganda, on July 19, 1987. I have travelled to a number of countries in Africa and Europe, and visited the Philippines and Thailand. My experience has been that there is no country in the world greater than the United States of America. It is a country of opportunity, plenty, prosperity, food security, health care, technology, transportation, excellent roads, electricity, clean drinking water, and great infrastructure, which are fruits of hard work. These are some of the things which make America the greatest in the world. For these and many other reasons, I believe that the people of the United States owe so much to God in Gratitude and Thanksgiving.
“The Founding Fathers, who were predominantly Christian, were men of strong faith in God as Creator of Heaven and Earth. They instilled the belief that our rights come from God, and that the right to life is among those rights. Every American has a reason to thank God for having chosen him or her to be born and raised in America, the land of plenty. Permit me to say that I think what should make Thanksgiving Day in America more meaningful is the recognition by its people that God is the source of your freedom and prosperity and that you owe Him gratitude for His abundant blessings. Citizens can express their gratitude by resolving to walk in the ways of God.
“I wish you a happy and grace-filled Thanksgiving Day celebration, a fruitful Advent season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” -Msgr. Matthew Odong
When Msgr. Odong, then 33 years old, first came to America in 1990, he had ice cream for the first time. He enjoyed it so much, he wrote a song about it, and sings it whenever he’s here. He’s known as “the ice cream priest.” When I went to Uganda to visit him in 2009, the Lord’s Resistance Army, which had kidnapped young men (including 41 of his seminarians) to use as warriors, and girls to use as sex slaves, had just been driven from his country. The Ebola virus, which is very deadly and painful, was in remission. Monsignor was using some of the money he raised so that wells could be drilled and people could carry drinking water to their homes, and so that young men could be educated in Sacred Heart Seminary. We are truly blessed!
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