Ugandans reluctant to mix sacred and profane

  • One commonly sees church news in local newspapers in Kampala, such as this celebration of nuns' 25th anniversary, or news of an episcopal appointment.
  • Catholic devotional items on sale on a street corner in central Kampala.
  • Photos for sale on the streets of Kampala. Such photos are often prominently displayed in offices. For many Baganda people, the king is said to outrank both pope and president for adulation and respect.
  • Centenary Bank, a Catholic bank, and its tower. The Anglicans are constructing a tower nearby.
  • Catholics aren't the only ones in the office tower and banking business. This Anglican tower was under construction a block from the Centenary Bank building.
  • Rosary beads hang from a car's rearview mirror.

One sees rosaries on cars, and occasionally a pious phrase on trucks or motorcycle taxis, but never, even in all Catholic areas, does one see a religious image in a business, from the smallest to the largest. Ugandans say that this is out of a hesitation to mix the sacred and profane. In other ways, though, the two are certainly mixed. Religious news, Catholic, Anglican and Muslim, is prominent in local secular newspapers, including stories that would in most places find a place only in a diocesan or religious newspaper.

One interesting and huge exception to this hesitation over mixing sacred and profane is the Centenary Bank, recent launched and owned by the Catholic dioceses of Uganda. The bank has a major office tower in downtown Kampala and branch offices in small towns everywhere. 

While Uganda is a market society with a robust private sector, Ugandans often do not trust banks, and tend to do business with coreligionists. As one put it, “For a Catholic to not do banking there will almost seem like a sin. But it will do a lot to help small scale saving and investment and build up the social welfare of Catholics.”