St. Ambrose parishioner offers services to Uganda
by luke eggleston
SUN staff writer
One night in the late 1990s, Tom Hranek woke from a dream he could not remember but he knew one thing: that one day he would serve in Uganda.
Hranek has no explanation for either the dream or the inspiration, except perhaps for God’s influence. Beyond stories of the horrors Idi Amin had inflicted upon that country, Hranek had no knowledge of Uganda.
“I felt called to serve in Uganda,” said Hranek. “I think it was the Holy Spirit.”
The premonition would take on a more concrete form when Father Charles Opondo-Owara arrived at Hranek’s home parish St. Ambrose in Endicott. Father Opondo-Owara arrived in the Southern Tier via his home diocese of Tororo in Uganda.
“We built a relationship,” Hranek said. Father Opondo-Owara went on to serve at Most Holy Rosary in Maine, N.Y., and St. Thomas Aquinas in Binghamton.
Over the years, Hranek’s interest in Uganda grew until last year when he realized how he could make a difference. A civil engineer by trade, Hranek said he became aware that he could help Uganda with two of its most pressing needs: water and infrastructure.
Hranek had read a great deal about Uganda, but he felt that in order to best evaluate the country’s needs he needed to see things first-hand.
“This trip was exploratory for me to learn what the situation was as far as water goes,” Hranek said.
From that point on, things moved fast. In order to go to Uganda, Hranek needed a letter of invitation from Archbishop James Odongo of the Tororo Diocese. Father Opondo-Owara immediately contacted the archbishop and shortly thereafter, Hranek had an invitation in hand.
Hranek did not go through channels provided by local charities, preferring instead to finance the visit on his own. In order to fly to Uganda, Hranek simply applied his frequent flier miles. Hranek departed for Uganda this past Jan. 21.
Upon arriving in Uganda, Hranek met with another unusual coincidence when he was greeted by Sister Salome Cherono of the Sisters of Mary, a small order based in Kenya that has branched out to Uganda. Sister Salome welcomed Hranek on behalf of Archbishop Denis Kiwanuka, who had replaced Archbishop Odongo since the invitation had been extended. Sister Salome was familiar with Hranek’s native Triple Cities area, having spent a month ministering at Most Holy Rosary in Maine in October 2005.
Just as Hranek felt a connection to Uganda, Sister Salome has felt an empathy for the U.S. ever since her visit. Recently, Sister Salome returned to Maine to visit Al and Pat Krzyzewski, a couple she had grown close to during her previous visit.
“They prayed that I would come back and stay with them a little longer because they felt the first time was too short,” she said. The Syracuse Diocese currently hosts several African priests and religious and Sister Salome said that her order wants to expand its ministry to the U.S. one day. Sister Salome discussed her order with parishioners at Most Holy Rosary May 3 and May 4 before returning to Uganda May 8.
“I’m going to let them know that we exist and we wish to extend our ministry to the U.S.,” Sister Salome said before her presentations. “I want to tell them of the areas of our apostolate. We are secretaries, teachers and catechists. If we came here, there are many things we can do.”
May 2, Sister Salome accompanied Hranek when he delivered a report on his trip Uganda to Syracuse Diocese Bishop James Moynihan.
While in Uganda, Hranek was personally able to grasp the country’s difficult situation as he met with individuals at all levels of society.
“I was able to deal with the simplest of subsistence-level farmers all the way up to the cabinet-level minister for water and the environment in Tororo,” Hranek said.
In order to describe Uganda, Hranek quoted a well-known Ugandan priest now located in the U.S.
“In the words of Msgr. John Kauta, Uganda is a land of contrasts and contradictions,” Hranek said.
Hranek was dazzled by the many different cultures present within Eastern Uganda alone, but he was inspired by the faith of the people there.
“I found the faith of the people to be simple yet strong,” Hranek said.
Hranek returned from Uganda March 13. Since then he has been documenting his experience on a blog, www.blogugandaexperience.blogspot.com.
Hranek said that in order to improve conditions one must approach the situation personally.
“In order to provide effective aid in Uganda it requires personal involvement. In other words, boots on the ground,” he said.
He also believes that the Catholic Church is the most capable agent of change in the East African nation.
“The most effective use of funds is through the Catholic Church,” he said. “In other avenues of charity, funds are often diverted to other projects, which the donor has not endorsed, or for someone’s personal use.”
He qualified that by noting that no charity can compare to one’s own hands-on impact.
“I would encourage anyone that feels called to serve to act upon it and visit the country bringing their skills and compassion,” Hranek said.