Emeritus Bishop John Baptist Kakubi of Mbarara Archdiocese has passed on today (Thursday) morning in Kampala.
Bishop Kakubi was 86 years old by the time of his death.
Below is bishop Kakubi’s autobiography
(Text from Bishop Kakubi memoirs).
A priest is a man chosen from among men, set apart for the service of God and his fellow human beings. Although he lives much of his life in full sight of the people he serves, the priest is regarded as, in many respects, a man set apart. (Heb.5:1 ff). It is to this vocation of priesthood that I, the first son of Rafaili Ziridamu and Kandida Kiremire was called from the confines of Bukanga in what is now known as Mbarara District. “We are called to be priests in order to do God’s will; the sanctification of human kind. It is only now of course that I understand the full meaning of becoming a priest of the New Testament.
It is to this priesthood that I, a son of my father belonging to an old clan of Bazigaaba, as we are called in Ankole, whose totem is a waterbuck, was called and ordained on 11th June 1960.” Bishop Kakubi.
My Early Childhood
I was born in Kyanyanda Village in Rugaaga sub county, Mbarara District on 23rd September 1929. My mother Kandida Kiremire belonged to the Baitira clan, while my father belonged to the Bazigaaba clan, as we are called here in Ankole. Our totem is a waterbuck. I was baptized two days later by the local catechist on the 25th September 1929. I was solemnly baptized by Reverend Father Alphons Belanger on the 25th December 1929. I Received the Sacrament of Confirmation from Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursiere on the 12th June 1939.
I am told I belong to the Babiito dynasty of Bunyoro. We descend from King Lukidi Lwanyatooro Mpuuga Wasswa. He was succeeded by King Winyi. This one begot Kibi Kaganda. It is this prince from whom we descend directly. Here below is my lineage as far as I could trace it from oral tradition, dating probably from the 18th century.
Ssamula Mukambula Nakabigo
Wannumi I Kyasamugongo
Ssamula Muzalira kyalo
Mugamba I Nakikulu
Rafairi Ziriddamu (Banyanya)
Bishop John Baptist Kakubi
I was born 23rd September 1929 as I said above. My parents were married in Nyamitanga Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help a year before I was born, on 7th November 1928.
MY PRIMARY SCHOOL DAYS AND SCHOOL MUGIGI PERIOD: From 1939- 1944
I started my primary education at Birunduma Primary School in 1938. My studies were interrupted by a long protracted sickness that kept me in bed for half a year. I resumed my studies in the same school in 1938 in Primary I in June. At the beginning of 1939 I was enrolled for catechism school mugigi for six months. It was customary in those days for young school children to leave school and dedicate six whole months on learning catechism at the parish. These school migigi were directed by a priest and taught by nuns in most cases. I was accepted at the school mugigi, by exception at the age of nine, because I could read and I was the son of a catechist. Otherwise the age for such mugigi was 12 years. I lived with my age mate Petero Mukasa from Kyanyanda, son of Yozefu Tiifiire. This one was a great friend and age mate also of my father. We stayed in the family of Petero’s aunt married to a catechist Fabiano Ifuro from Bukanga. We had a good time together with Petero at Katojo, the home of Fabiano and Nzera.
At our catechism school we were taught by two influential people in the parish of Nyamitanga; the parish priest, the late Fr. (Pere) Joseph Nicolet a French White Father, who later came to love me and my family, and the late Sister Valeria, a muganda Munnabikira of Bwanda. Both persons liked their work and loved to be with us. I began to love priesthood because of the way Fr. Nicolet treated me. I think my vocation to the priesthood began then, as I will be pointing out later on.
My confirmation day, 12th June 1939, is also a day to remember. I still have vivid memories of that day. On that day all to be confirmed were dressed in immaculate white, the girls in white dresses and the boys in white shirts without pants imagine. I put off my long kind of shirt my father had made for me. It reached down to my ankles. I put on the same garment as other boys. We looked like little angels processing from our classroom to the cathedral. That was my first great impression. The second was during the very ceremony of Confirmation. We were confirmed by the venerable the late Bishop Francis Xavier Lacoursiere, the founder of Rwenzori Vicariate to become later Mbarara Diocese. His physical features looked to me a god. He was big in stature with a well trimmed big beard, big soft hands. Looking at him I thought I was in contact with a divinity. The most thrilling moment came when he reached me to anoint me with the Holy Chrism and give a soft slap on my cheek with his big palm. His fingers were big but so soft and tender; I wished they remained on me forever.
At Primary School at Birunduma 1940-194l
Primary school provided two important years of growth and development of my life. I was 11 and 12 years of age. They were going to be the only years that I would be living with and under my parents, father and mother. The rest of school days were going to be spent away from my parents and home environment. After the two years in Birunduma Primary School and at home, I was promoted to Primary Three. This meant moving to Nyamitanga, Mbarara, as there were only two classes at Birunduma.
At Nyamitanga Primary School 1942-1943
At school I had Mr.Pio Mbiine, as my class teacher in Primary III. He too, surprisingly came to love me and took delight especially in me. He was a musician and an organist. He learnt these skills in the seminary at Bukalasa. He tried to teach me and other children to sing. He later introduced me to Sister Bernard, a Canadian Good Counsel Sister, who was training small children to sing. He was a good and disciplinarian teacher but kind.
The first time I wished I was dead
While I was at Nyamitanga in P.IV a certain Father Gaulet, of the Missionaries of Africa was dying at the residence of Bishop Lacoursiere. All of us school children were hustled together and sent to pray for the dying old missionary. He died while we were at his bedside. That was my first time to see a dead body, and at that of a European. Strange enough, instead of frightening me it aroused in me a spirit of joy and envy. I said to myself I wish I would die like that in the midst of so many people praying for me. I said to myself that day that I am going to be priest and die like Fr.Gaulet surrounded by many Christians praying for me. Mind you, I was just becoming 14.
Because of this event and the presence of Father Kwirigira, the seed of my priestly calling started to be embedded in me. When the parish priest, Fr.J.Nicolet came in our class to ask those who wanted to go to the Seminary, I gave him my name willingly.
The woman of my dreams
From that time till I entered Kitabi Seminary, I had two imaginations preoccupying my mind, a bit like dreams: one of becoming a priest and work and live like Fr. Kwirigira. Apart from his ministerial duties, he had been allowed to be a member of Ishengyero of Ankole (Parliament) at Kamukuzi. He also wrote and published a book entitled, OMUTSIGAZI OMUSHONGORE. Another dream was to study as much as I could and go as far as Makeerere University, as it was the only University then in the country; and marry the girl I loved. She lived near us at Nyamitanga in the family of Henry Kamanyiro.
St Francis Xavier Kitabi Minor Seminary, 1944-1950.
I entered Kitabi Seminary in January 1944. Fredrick Irineo Kangwamu and I, were taken to the Seminary by our parish priest, Fr. Joseph Nicolet, from Nyamitanga parish. Our parish priest was very kind and loving. He did not want to risk sending us alone to walk such a distance, 45 miles from Mbarara to Kitabi Seminary. There were no other ways of covering that distance other than by foot. Two other young boys joined us in the same class also from Nyamitanga parish, but lived in now Rwera parish. By then it belonged to Nyamitanga. These were: Henry Tinkamanyire and Taddeo Rwabukanga. We were all together 26 from Primary IV who entered Kitabi in the same year with Msgr. Boneventure Kasaija from Fort Portal, and the late Paul Bitature, who left the Seminary and became one of the big business men in the country. As these had come having completed Primary VI, they went straight to what was called Secondary One, which today is Senior One. We went to what was called Preparatory, comprising of two years, Primary V and VI.
I was happy to find at Kitabi Seminary, Raphael Begumisa whom I knew before, because he came from the same parish Nyamitanga. He became my protector and guardian. There was a lot of teasing even to the extent of bullying the newcomers.
Expelled and then forgiven
In the preparatory class the first part of the year was concentrated on English – as we who had come from Primary IV did not know a word of English. We had to begin from scratch. After the first six months we had to speak English with the rest. That was tough for most of us. At the end of that period, we were given what one would call a qualifying test in the major subjects, except Latin. If one failed, he would be dismissed. I was to go with all those who failed at that time. But luckily, my parish priest, the late Fr. J Nicolet who loved very much my family, my father having been a well known catechist, interceded for me with the Rector to bear with me till the end of the year. I was allowed to stay and asked to apply myself seriously to study especially English. At the end of my first year, 1944 I got over 50% marks in our total examinations. This was what was required to remain in the seminary and be promoted.
My last Year at Kitabi Seminary,1950
I spent seven years at Kitabi and was getting on to twenty one. The first year was called Preparatory equivalent to present Preseminaries today. The six years that followed were called Secondary 1-6, culminating to internal examinations to assess our intellectual suitability to study Philosophy and Theology in the Major Seminary. We did not have external examinations either from Cambridge or from our Ministry of Education now known as O-level or A-level examinations.
We started 24 in 1944 and ended our seven years only four of us. It were these four plus now Father Vincent Kanyonza, who joined our class in 1950, having remained alone in his class, that were eventually promoted to go to the Major Seminary Katigondo. We were:
Baligasaki Peter from Hoima
Biryabarema Michael from Kitanga
Kakubi John Baptist from Nyamitanga
Tibanyenda Hilary from Bunyaruguru
Kanyonza Vincent from Rushoroza Kabale
Remember that we all belonged to one Vicariate, Rwenzori, comprising now the five Dioceses under the Metropolitan of Mbarara Archdiocese.
At Katigondo we were joined by five others from Bukalasa Seminary:
Kyabukasa Henry, now a priest brother of Cardinal E.Wamala, from Masaka
Kalemera Ignatius from Rubaga
Mukasa Charles the late from Masaka, RIP
Musomero Peter also from Masaka
Ssamula Chrisant also from Masaka. He died soon after his ordination in a mortar accident. RIP
My Life At Katigondo Major Seminary 1951-1956.
As you may recall from above, I entered Katigondo Seminary at the age of 22. We were expected to stay seven years plus a year of probation, as they called it then, before we would be ordained priests.
Admission to the Major Seminary was an indication that one had a vocation to the priesthood. So I was very delighted to have been admitted to Katigondo Seminary. At Katigondo Major Seminary I found many other seminarians from our Diocese. I was particularly happy to have found Raphael Begumisa from my home parish Nyamitanga, whom I had lived with in Kitabi for five years.
I had now achieved the resolution I made when I was in my Preparatory at Kitabi. I said to myself that even if all my 23 classmates leave, I shall be a priest. Of course that was childish thinking. I said that during a study period of Religion after Holy Mass.
We had four periods of 45 minutes of lectures a day; two in the morning and two in the afternoon. We had time set aside for studies. The curriculum, for the first three years, included Philosophy, Scripture, Spirituality. After three years one was initiated in the clerical state by a ceremony known as tonsure. This was a big step in one’s priestly formation. This first part of the Seminary formation was called the Philosophy Section. The next three years was the Theological section. We did Theology, and more of Scripture, History, – Moral and Pastoral Theology for three years. The lectures were given Latin and so were text books or manuals for some subjects. We therefore had to know Latin. We had also monthly oral examinations. They were also carried out in Latin.
After that we were sent to our home diocese for a full year’s pastoral work or probation. On probation we continued doing personal studies on given topics by the lecturers in our Katigondo. We had to submit written dissertations on those topics.
After my three years of philosophy, to my greatest joy, I was selected with my eight classmates to be tonsured. These were;
- The late Charles Mukasa from Masaka.
- The late Fr. Chrescent Ssamulla from Masaka.
- Henry Kyabukasa, brother of Cardinal Wamala from masaka.
- Peter Musomero from Masaka, brother of Bishop Paul Kalanda.
- The Late Michael Biryabarema from Mbarara.
- Kanyonza from Mbarara then.
- Hilary Tibanyenda from Mbarara.
- Myself Bishop J.B. Kakubi from Mbarara.
At the beginning of 1958 we returned to Katigondo to resume our studies. In June my Bishop J.M. Ogez told me and Hilary Tibanyenda to go to England to continue our studies in Allen Hall St. Edmand College, Ware Hertfordhire. This was a shock to me. I never expected such a change. Egidio Nkaijanabwo was sent to Liverpool Archdiocese in the north at the same time.
We had to be ready to move in July, 1958. None of us had ever been beyond Uganda. To go to a foreign country was something beyond us. Those who were in the ministry of priesthood before us wondered why Bishop Ogez, a French man, who had just been appointed in the See of Mbarara coming from the then northern Rhodesia now Zambia, sent his Seminarians to England not to Rome where Seminarians from the mission countries were normally sent.
Two reasons were behind our Bishop’s sending us to England;
Bishop Ogez was a man of innovation and he wanted to try some other ways of training some of us other than the routine Roman Seminary education.
- Soon after his consecration in France, he traveled through England looking for English speaking priests. He went straight to Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminister Archdiocese. He put his request to him for English speaking priests to teach in his Seminary and schools. Bishop Ogez told Cardinal Godfrey that vocations to priesthood and religious life were forthcoming but no room and personnel to educate them. Cardinal Godfrey immediately told Bishop Ogez to send some of his Seminarians to his Major Seminary as there was plenty of room. Moreover there would be no need to worry about funds for bursaries. The late Cardinal Bourne had left in his Will an endowment for the training of foreign students, but it had to be used in English Seminaries.
These were the two reasons why Bishop Ogez sent us to St. Edmand College and Egidio to Upholland in Liverpool Archdiocese. He sent others to the same seminary later. These were, the late Fr. Pius Tibanyendera followed us in St. Edmond. Fr. Andrew Bakaihahenki and Arch Bishop Paul Bakyenga were sent later to Drygrange in Scotland. Bukoba Diocese under Cardinal Rugambwa followed Bishop Ogez’s move and sent some of their seminarians also to England.
STUDENTS’ LIFE IN ALLEN HALL, ST. EDMUND COLLEGE, London
At the time we went to St. Edmund College, the institution comprised of three schools; a Grammar school, a Preparatory school and a Major Seminary. All were under a priest called a President. At our time he was Msgr. Butcher. He was the President and the Rector of the Major Seminary section called Allen Hall. This seminary was very historical. It is believed to have existed since 1779 from the time of the Douay College in France where seminaries were forced to go, during Catholic persecution in England. It had forced all clerical and religious Catholic Institutions to close down under penalty of martyrdom. At their return some Seminarians settled in St. Edmund while others moved up to the north of England in Ushaw Seminary. That is why we have the old contention between the two colleges as who is the successor of Douay College.
St. Edmund college was very well situated in the country side surrounded by farms, with plenty of fresh air – really conducive to study. It was not far from London.
The life in Allen Hall was rather congenial. We fitted in well. I soon made friends. Once an English man befriends you it is for life. I remember I had three very close friends with whom I would go for tea in the nearby coffee bars around the seminary on Saturdays.
There were the usual English sports football of course, rugby and lawn tennis. I played football and tennis. There was a swimming pool in the Grammar School section. We could go over to swim. I enjoyed swimming in summer. As a Diocesan seminary to train secular priests, the spirituality was different from what we had in Katigondo. But I soon adapted myself to it. Each seminarian had to have a spiritual Director whom we met at least once a month. There were spiritual talks by Spiritual directors. There were talks on pastoral and spiritual experiences by priests from the clergy of the dioceses or from parishes of London. I appreciated these talks.
Spiritual exercises were nearly the same as in Katigondo. St. Edmund’s college at our time had its own particular discipline. Each seminarian, called divine was left with some freedom, although there were rules like in any institution of learning. I think this was mainly due to the President/ Rector and staff who were liberal. We thought at that time we were progressive not like other seminaries, e.g Wornish in the south, who went around the seminary grounds in black cassocks and a black biretta on their heads. We only wore our black cassocks. Remember this was Trindentine time before Vatican II. In St. Edmund all the divines (Seminarians) were obliged to take part in one or other sports. There was basketball, lawn tennis, football, rugby or cricket and swimming. The most popular sport was football – soccer.
In Westminister Archdiocese it was the custom to ordain deacon priests on the Saturday before Trinity Sunday. On Friday 10th June we set up in a hostel of the Archdiocese near the cathedral. This eve was also moving for us as class but more especially for the deacons of the Archdiocese of Westminister.
As was customary, we were all invited to the palace of the Archbishop for tea with him. This was exciting for two reasons;
- It was the first and probably the only occasion to sit at table with the Cardinal in one’s priestly life.
- It was at that moment or just after tea the future priests of Westminister received their appointments.
After tea, we retired to our hostel. We had come with the drinks that had remained over at our dinner with the staff. So the whole evening was a merry making.
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY TO REMEMBER
11th JUNE 1960.
In the morning of the 11th June at the appointed time we were driven in a minibus to the Cathedral. We had rehearsed very well the ceremonies of ordination as we had been told by Msgr. Wollock the then Secretary and MC of the cathedral who later became Archbishop of Liverpool Archdiocese.
I, being the oldest in age, went first in all the ceremonies. It is difficult to tell what I felt especially when prostrated and at the consecration prayer. We were ten deacons altogether with two of us black, Hilary and myself.
In attendance were the parents and relatives of the eight of us, we had a few Ugandans and Totteridge White Fathers seminarians in attendance. Among the Ugandans present I remember Policarp Nyamuconco and Matayo Rugamba, Francis Ruhesi, John Kihika, and Fr. Pius Tibanyendera.
At the end of the ordination each one of us went up to the throne of the Cardinal and gave him our first blessing. After the ceremonies and blessing of friends and relatives each priest, newly ordained was driven home by their relatives for the ordination party. That was the last time we saw each other. We were taken to Totteridge, White Fathers’ Seminary. The White Fathers had prepared a big dinner for us. We were honoured by the presence of Archbishop John Mathew, the Apostolic Delegate of Eastern Africa, of Msgr. Tomlison the chaplain of London University and the provincial of the White Fathers of the English Province, Fr. Maguire. A big group of Ugandans were also present. This included among others, Bishop Egidio Nkaijanabwo who had been ordained subdeacon in Upholland Seminary of Liverpool Archdiocese, the late Fr. Pius Tibanyendera who had joined us in St. Edmund College.
The Day to Remember ended with farewell to the dinner guests. I remained rehearsing the ceremonies of my first Holy Mass which was to be a solemn High Mass with a Katanga Mass sung by the White Fathers’ Seminarians from Totteridge.
A longing for motherly approval
At night, I remained quiet alone contemplating over what I had become – a ministerial priest of the Catholic Church for ever. Priesthood is not a career; actually priesthood is not even a reward. Being ordained away from home without the hustle and bustle of big parties and receptions, became for me a good time to rejoice interiorly over what I had become. My thoughts of course went back home to my parents. I thought what joy they would have experienced had they witnessed what I went through and what I had now become. Tears gathered in my eyes I felt for once homesick and longing for my parents.
As a result of those thoughts, I sat up and got on my typewriter and wrote a letter to my mother, the first letter I ever wrote to her. I used to write to my father on previous occasions. But this time I wanted to share my inner sentiments with my mother. What I had become was her making more than my father, for I am physiologically more of my mother than my father. I wrote that my priesthood was her priesthood, pity she was not there to witness physically my ordination. I enclosed the linen that the ordaining prelate bound my hands together after anointing them, a very significant symbol. And I wrote at the end of the letter that my mother should keep that cloth as we lived; if by any misfortune she would hear that I have betrayed my priestly promises in any way whatsoever, she should produce that cloth and the letter. Actually she kept that letter till her final sickness. When she felt her life was getting to the end she returned it to me.
RETURNING A NEWLY ORDAINED PRIEST TO MY MOTHERLAND
23RD SEPTEMBER, 1961
My parents and a few of my relatives brought by Mr. Fredrick Kangwamu in his car. He was then an MP for Mbarara, representing the Democratic Party. They were all at Entebbe Airport waiting to see me, their son who had left three years ago a seminarian now a priest; I was then 32 years old. Their joyous expectations were also mine. As soon as I got out of customs’ check point, my mother took hold of me. She embraced me and kissed my chicks the way I had not expected. She would not let me off. Meanwhile my father was shaking with joy expectantly waiting for his turn also to embrace me. After the greetings we all jumped into Kangwamu’s car and sped off for the west. I did not have a big luggage as I had sent the big bulk of my belongings earlier by ship. We had lunch in Lukaya Restaurant composed of mainly bitookye which I relished after three years without eating bitookye for three years.
After lunch we got back in our vehicle aiming to reach home – Birunduma before dark. At our arrival we were greeted by a crowd of villagers and relatives all gazing at me, a young newly ordained priest. After the initial excitement, we had a bigger celebration of all Christians at the church.
I solemnly celebrated my first Mass in our village with joy and gratitude in the presence of my beloved mother and father (Candida and Raphael). After Mass there were the usual activities, entertainments and a big meal. The most entertainments were the matali played and danced by my Moslem relatives. At this first reception as a priest, there was a young boy Gerald Nsamba who watched diligently everything that took place. He was moved so much so that he vowed himself also to become a priest. He indeed became a priest. I ordained him at the same place where I was received as a young priest. Some years later we lost Fr. Gerald Nsamba in a motor accident in 1995.
Later I was invited by my parish priest then Fr. H. Witbroek to celebrate my solemn first Mass at Nyamitanga Parish to which we belonged by then. This was a great day also with lots of excitement. After this celebration the Diocesan authorities gave me my legacy bequeathed me by my beloved the late Fr. Joseph Nicolet. This was an omega wrist watch and a safari small chalice which I still treasure. The omega watch was stolen by the so called liberators, Tanzanian soldiers in 1979 when they ransacked my house at Nyamitanga.
MY FIRST APPOINTMENT AS A PRIEST:
I was soon appointed as a curate at Nyamitanga after two months’ holidays on 1st December, 1961. Our Parish priest was Msgr. Bartholomew Wamala a Muganda priest from Masaka Diocese. Other curates were Fr. Desnoyer, Fr. G. Servel. The number may seem big to the reader of today.
The three priests I started with are all dead, God bless their souls.
My Bishop asked me also to help Fr. Angus Neilson, the chaplain of Ntare the famous school. He was a Fidei Donum Priest from Scotland, he too is dead. May God bless their soul.
I was to teach the catholic students Religious Knowledge. At that time we taught scripture which comprised of St. Mathew’s first five chapters up to the Sermon on Mount and all the Acts of the Apostles. This subject was examinable at O’level by the State but only for the Catholics and Protestants separately.
Nurturing President Museveni’s astuteness
Because of my teaching at Ntare which was a Government founded school, somehow secular my Bishop allowed me to wear a clergyman suit, a practice that was known in Uganda for diocesan priests. The Bishop insisted that I wear the clergyman suit at Ntare and when going or coming back only. He said he gave that permission by way of exception. Bishop Ogez although French missionary was rather liberal. He did not allow me or other priests in the Diocese to put off their cassocks or gandulas for the White Fathers at any other time. He had to conform to the rest of Ugandan clergy. I did not teach every day at Ntare. On other days I shared parish work with my fellow priests in the parish. Later in the year when Fr. Neilson left the country I took over the whole chaplain’s work. I had to teach all the catholic students from Senior I to senior IV. There was no syllabus for S.I and S.II; I made my own syllabus in agreement with Mr. Crighton, the then headmaster.
As I had done Catholic Social studies at St. Peter Claver Institute in England, I put into use my knowledge of Catholic social teaching and social economic. I made my syllabus for SI and SII based on the teaching of the Social Catholic Church.
In my syllabus there were topics on political and human relationships between sexes and various nationalities. These attracted very many students, even non-Catholics joined. We held debates now and again. It was here that young Yoweri Museveni joined in as one of them. The debate was on adolescent boys’ and girls’ friendship. This debate lasted weeks. It was here that I began to see the witty astuteness of Yoweri Museveni.
MY TEACHING LIFE AT KATIGONDO MAJOR SEMINARY
JANUARY 1963 – DECEMBER 1964
I had begun to enjoy my chaplaincy work at Ntare when my Bishop asked me to go to teach in Katigondo Major Seminary. It was early in the morning when I was already dressed to go to teach at Ntare, that Bishop Ogez called me to his office. He apologetically told me that he was obliged to send me to Katigondo to join the team of priests to form future other Ugandan priests. It was a bombshell in my ears. I had never expected such an appointment so soon after my ordination and return from England. I never excelled in any ecclesiastical subjects at the Major Seminary nor did I specialize in any of them after my priesthood. What hit me most was that I was going to be on the staff of Katigondo with elderly priests who had been my teachers and spiritual formators, such as the then Rector Fr. Van den Bosch.
When I went to Katigondo I was 34, very active and lively. I would do manual work with students. It was during that time that I completed Katigondo football ground by expanding it, cutting into the upper side steps with only students during manual work or Community service as it came to be called later. We also leveled out a volley ball pitch next to Mwasa. I took part in sports with the students; I played lawn tennis, volley ball and football. On one of our football matches I broke my ankle tendon of my right foot. I had to nurse it for about a month. Although I soon recovered and could walk, I had to limp even up to now. My friends, Fr. Kalanda, Fr. Gay and Fr. Mac’Aadam those of my age, would crack a joke on me that I will never be a Bishop. They could not imagine a limping priest six years later being appointed Bishop by Rome for Mbarara diocese in July 1969.
MY WORK IN THE DIOCESE 1964 – 1967:
On my return to the Diocese I was appointed Diocesan Secretary for Education. My work covered the now two Dioceses of Mbarara and Kabale. I had to travel through the two Dioceses visiting schools to acquaint myself with the situation of schools in the then two districts.
Over and above that I was asked to be the diocesan director for Catholic Social Action, while my elder Fr. M. Blanchard was director or chaplain of lay Apostolate. In my work as a director of social action I started with Mr. Kasapuri and Tadeo Kachoboye on thrift and loan societies which were later called “Biika Oguze”. They thrived from 1965 up to 1980. We often travelled around the Diocese together.
As I said on my return from Katigondo to the Diocese, I was appointed both Diocesan Secretary for Education in charge of Catholic Education in Schools and director of Social Action as it was called then. That year was the closing of the Universal Vatican Council II and the canonization of the 22 Catholic Uganda Martyrs.
UGANDA MARTYRS CELEBRATION:
My Bishop, Rt. Rev. J.M. Ogez, a Bishop, a man of zeal and foresight, appointed me to plan and prepare the Diocesan celebrations of the Catholic Uganda Martyrs Canonization. Because of that I had to go around each and every Parish to sensitize the priests and the faithful. This was not an easy job, I tell you. Remember the majority of the priests were expatriate missionaries. The Africans were just a handful, they were:
- Leo Katesigwa
- Thomas Bishanga.
- Cyril Mbura
Although Kabale and Mbarara were still one Diocese under Bishop Ogez, there was another priest appointed to work as Diocesan Secretary for Education in Kigezi District. This was Fr. Jean Lacoursiere. But I was the overall secretary. Imagine a young priest of just 4 years ordained. I had several committees to organize to plan and prepare for such a feast. It was hard and taxing.
Finally we got through and had marvelous celebrations at Nyamitanga. I was surprised and delighted by the co-operation of everybody I approached. I think these were events in which Bishop Ogez began to observe in me as possible candidate to succeed him.
PARISH PRIEST NYAMITANGA 1966 – 1967
When I was beginning to relish my work as a diocesan secretary for education one morning, my Bishop called me to tell me of my new appointment. To my great surprise he told me that he had appointed me the Parish priest of Nyamitanga Cathedral parish. That was a great shock to me; I had to work with Fr. J. Courbon, a missionary expatriate, older than me at least in priest hood.
I got my official appointment letter on 15th July 1966, just only six-years ordained. I tried to argue my point against that appointment that I had no pastoral experience, that I have grown in and around Nyamitanga and that the parish is too big and too old for me as young as I was. Bishop Ogez banished all that and stuck to his decision.
LIFE AS A RECTOR AT KITABI SEMINARY
1968 JANUARY – AUGUST 1969:
This second departure from Nyamitanga parish was even harder than the first one in 1963. When I was appointed to Katigondo Seminary.
Human beings as we are, change of life is never pleasant. My transfer from Nyamitanga was I thought transplanting me from a pleasant practical pastoral work. In the parish I was in contact with people who needed my ministerial work. For going to the house of formation, of teaching, I thought I was going to be locked up in my room or in a classroom. But, because I had been in another house of formation, Katigondo Seminary, the desire to educate and form future priests, whom I could be working with, brought me pleasant feelings.
I looked back at my past three transfers which began with uneasiness but later became pleasant;
My transfer from Nyamitanga Parish as a curate and chaplain at Ntare 1962 to Katigondo Seminary.
- My return from Katigondo to Nyamitanga as a diocesan secretary for education in 1964.
- My appointment as a Parish Priest of Nyamitanga 1967.
One other reason why we do not like change, is because we feel secure where we have been and are uncertain of what we may expect in our new job or appointment.
Fr. Hilary Tibanyenda
Fr. Hilary Tibanyenda was then Rector of Kitabi Seminary, having been transferred from the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Mutolele. Let me remind the reader of my close association with Hilary. We started Kitabi Seminary 1944 together. We were sent together to complete our Seminary training in St. Edmund’s College, England. We were ordained on the same day in Westminister Cathedral, 11th June, 1960 by Cardinal William Godfrey.
I knew very well the abilities of Hilary. So I proposed to the Bishop to appoint Fr. Hilary his Vicar General instead of me. He agreed to the proposal but then, he said “I want you to replace Hilary”. I agreed to that willingly. As we all know Bishop Ogez, a man of clear decision and quick action, it was not long after my talk with him that he appointed Hilary Vicar General and me a second African Rector of Kitabi Seminary, where Hilary had been the very first African Rector.
KITABI SEMINARY AS A RECTOR
Life at Kitabi in my headship was enjoyable. The students were happy with the diet which was bananas potatoes with beans or peas. We grew most of them ourselves. At breakfast they had maize porridge and on weekends bread. Some local parents found this exaggerated. I remember the late Mr. John Ishanga telling me of this, especially as he had his son with us Mr. Longino Ndyanabo, now the Chairman LC V of Bushenyi District. He said I was spoiling the boys. I always wanted to make sure that my boys were well-fed. I collected dry food stuffs that could be stored during holidays and filled my stores. I did the same with firewood; the stores were always full by the beginning of the term.
The effects of our good formation are the people who are in very important positions as priests and laity. Let me remind the reader that in those days, Kabale sent their seminarians to Kitabi. That is why we boast of Bishop Callistus Rubaramira as the best product of our Kitabi seminary. I have already mentioned Mr. Longino Ndyanabo Chairman of Bushenyi district. We have men of the status such as Professor Peter Kasenene, Professor Peter Kanyandago to mention a few. All these and many others went through my hands; they love me as I love them even today.
By the beginning of 1969 I was beginning to love my job as a Rector, we were a happy staff; Fr. Dominic Kataribabo had joined us replacing Fr. Andrew Karemera, the late.
I never felt a need to go away even for holidays; I spent my holidays at the seminary doing one or other things. Actually in the holiday of December 1968, I repainted all the roofs with the money I saved over the past academic year. But the good things never last on this earth.
MY TELEGRAMME CALL TO THE NUNCIO – JULY 1969:
One Wednesday afternoon, 2nd of July 1969, Fr. Kataribabo brought me a telegramme addressed to me as Monsignor J. B. Kakubi. Those days telegrammes through the Post Office were delivered by hand. It was just after lunch. I opened the telegramme and read it quietly in my office. I was summoned immediately to the Nunciature in Kampala.
Bishop Barnabas Halem’Imana had been announced as appointed 26th June 1969 on Thursday.
May I remind the reader that at that time hectic preparation for the visit of Pope Paul VI were going on in the country and of course expectation of new Bishops for Kabale, Hoima and Mbarara Seas that were vacant, were also there.
I decided to forgo my siesta and asked Fr. Kataribabo to lend me his car and he readily accepted. I had no car except the seminary pick-up. On receiving that telegramme, I was shocked and tremor overpowered I immediately suspected I was invited to be the next Bishop of Mbarara. I got in the car, there and then determined not to accept the offer.
At Bushenyi I picked up two old men both friends of mine; Mr. John Ishanga and Mr. Kashogoroize, they were going to Mbarara to meet Mr. Bataringaya on political matters. They asked me where I was going; I told them that I was going to Nyamitanga for some meetings. Luckily I dropped them at Kamukuzi as it was where they were going. I proceeded on my journey to Kampala.
On my way, I saw a car with diplomatic registration heading to Mbarara I never took serious notice of it. The whole journey I was thinking of the possible appointment I could receive. I arrived to the Nunciature in Nsambya the present resident of Bishop Kakooza. I was warmly received by Archbishop Poggi. He had difficulty in expressing himself in English, so he brought me a piece of paper and told me that the Pope was asking me to become the new Bishop of Mbarara succeeding Bishop Ogez. I had prepared myself to make the best opposition to refuse the appointment which I did.
Three times the Nuncio left me alone to think over the appointment by the Pope and sign a paper accepting. Twice I refused, at the third time he referred me to the promise I made at my priestly ordination to obey Ordinary and his successors. He said the Pope now; my Supreme Ordinary is asking me to carry out this most worthy apostolic work of shepherding God’s people in Mbarara. He also pointed to the figure of Christ on the cross. In his best English he said I was afraid of the cross. He referred to the encounter of St. Peter with Jesus, when the apostle was running from martyrdom.
With those touching remarks I asked him to leave me alone for a few minutes. I prayed to the Lord, asked Him the courage and strength to take on the responsibility as demanded of me by the Holy Father. I signed the document as the Nuncio had asked, accepting the burden. He came in and took the paper and waved me farewell. I was so shaken and trembling that I failed to drink the soda the Sister in his house offered me. He told me that what we have agreed upon is a complete secret; I should not talk it over with anybody until the Holy See announces in Rome the appointment.
I left his house shaken up, but I got the courage to drive through Kampala to Rugaba Brothers of Christian Instruction where I spent the night. I returned home on the following day straight from Kampala to Kitabi Seminary. I found every member of staff in a somber mood. They were not as welcoming as ever before. I wondered whether they had some news about me.
It is later they came to tell me of a Msgr. Lofters, who came in looking for me on the pretense that the Nuncio wanted to consult me about some Music to be sung at the visit of the Pope. This was the diplomatic car I met on my way to Kampala. The Nuncio in Nsambya had been told that I was away from any Post Office. It would take some time for his telegramme to reach me. As he wanted an answer from me as soon as possible, he sent Msgr. Lophters an English Secretary of Rwanda Burundi Nunciature, being English, he had come to give a hand in preparing for the Pope’s visit. On arrival at Kitabi he had to invent a way of presenting his mission. He later told me that it was one of his toughest missions he had ever been sent to.
Every time I came back both staff and students teased me about the purple sash. This time as I said nothing was said. Everybody, I guessed was waiting to get the news from me.
I got back on Thursday, my nomination would be announced in Rome on Friday noon – Roman time (at 2 o’clock our time). I spent those two nights sleepless. I tried to imagine the honour and applause I would get from the people, but this was swallowed up by the fear and trepidation from my other imagination on the burden and difficulties I foresaw would come from my bishopric. It was because of all these, that I entrusted my burden to the Lord. Psalm 3 kept coming in my mind. That is why I took as my motto Ps. 3: 3 “Domine clipeus meus es” “Lord you are my shield”, with you I will succeed. That gave me a bit of relief and courage.
As the news was not forth coming, even until Friday evening, I decided to go with Fr. Leduc the Bursar to Mbarara hoping to find the news out.
True enough at Nyamitanga I received three telegrammes from friends in Kampala congratulating me. I showed them to Fr. U. Birora, a great friend of mine. He immediately jumped in his car drove around Nyamitanga compound hooting and shouting “We have a Bishop.” That was on 6th July 1969.
On my return to Kitabi I was met at the football ground by a crowd of students led by the seminarian band that I had never seen them play. That evening was a relief for me and a great rejoicing in the whole community.
It was difficult for any of us to recollect and do some serious work in class on Monday following. Later on the tempers cooled down. We continued our usual teaching and all the routine duties.
On Friday the 11th of January 1969 I went with a few friends to see my parents in Birunduma Bukanga. When my father was told of my appointment he was not excited at all. As a matter of fact he went back and continued for some time to work in his banana plantation. It took some minutes for him to accept that his son, J. B. Kakubi had been appointed a Bishop. He later cooled down and entertained us. Three of us priests, spent a night, at home. We had great fun that night, especially from the jokes of the late Fr. Joseph Mugasha.
This was the time we were all preparing for the visit of the Pope. All the students had refused the offer. They knew they would not see much with big crowds. But knowing that I was going to be consecrated by the visiting Pope Paul VI. They were all eager to go.
PREPARATION FOR MY ORDINATION:
The official letter of appointment came telling me that I would be ordained with eleven other priests from Africa by the Pope on the 1st August 1969.
These preparations entailed getting the Bishop’s attire. I went to Bishop Lacoursiere in Rwera. He gave me one of his purple sashes.
Spiritual and Psychological preparations:
I chose to make a private personal retreat from 24th – 28th January 1969. I chose Rugazi Parish to take this exercise. Rugazi parish is in the West of Mbarara Diocese near the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
It overlooks the park and Rwenzori Mountain. This is a good natural spot to sit and relax. It is a place to feel next to God the Creator of the beautiful nature. I like nature very much, that is one of the reasons I went to Rugazi for my retreat. I thought I would not only feel next to God but be in the midst of his beautiful creation. I thought this would relax my nerves and strengthen my Spiritual dependence on God; and indeed it did.
After five days retreat I was invigorated, energized, and ready to take over the burden as Christ did take up his cross to suffer and die for us. Having had an intimate and quiet encounter with Christ in the Eucharist which is my greatest devotion, at the daily celebration of the Holy Mass, I offered myself resolutely to Christ to serve the people of God as their shepherd.
Such thoughts and meditations changed my feelings greatly. I was no more timid, afraid of the burden. That is why this spiritual exercise did not only help me spiritually but tranquilized my feelings and nerves.
Such thoughts indeed uplifted me. Here I was celebrating the mystery of mysteries in the midst of the beauty of creation. One American tourist standing at Rugazi Parish at the brow of the hill said “This is a million dollar view”
THE POPE’S VISIT AND OUR EPISCOPAL ORDINATION
30TH AUGUST – 3RD SEPT. 1969:
After my retreat Fr. Dominic Kataribabo took me to Ggaba National Seminary which was for the first time being opened solemnly by the first meeting of SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar). We joined eight other candidates among who was Archbishop E. Milingo. There was great excitement that night not only because of our Bishopric but also because of the Pope’s Visit to Africa.
We were four Ugandans:
- Bishop elect Sarapio Magambo Auxilliary of Fort Portal.
- Bishop elect Edward Baharagate, Bishop of Hoima.
- Bishop elect Barnabas Halem’Imana Bishop of Kabale announced 26thJune, 1969.
- Bishop elect John Baptist Kakubi, Bishop of Mbarara announced 2ndJuly, 1969. We joined other Bishops on the 5th July 1969 from the African Continent, who had gathered for the SECAM 1st meeting at the new Ggaba National Seminary.
We stayed for some days before going through the ceremonies that would take place at Kololo grounds.
The Pope arrived at the scheduled time on Wednesday 30th July, 1969. Only the Ugandan Bishops including us the four Bishops elect were flown to Entebbe Airport to meet the Pope. I am not going to go into the details of the Pope’s visit since this had been published by several other people.
What interests my reader is to know how I went through the Episcopal ordination formerly called consecration.
On that famous Friday I woke up early in the morning of 1st August 1969. I put myself in the hands of God, prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This of course did not stop the nervousness and trepidation. Apart from the fact of the ordination itself to the highest rank in the Sacrament of the Holy Orders, there was the fact of the presence of the Pope, which alone made everybody nervous.
We went through the rite of ordination without a hitch. But I assure you I was lost in the air to take in all what was carried out.
We all had similar vestments and similar crosiers and rings, supplied by the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith. The only Episcopal attire different was the mitre. Each one of us had a different Mitre.
After the ordination ceremony, all the Bishops, Ugandan and others were to go to the Ugandan Parliament to meet the Holy Father who addressed the National Parliament.
When all the other Bishops had gone, I found myself alone surrounded by crowds from Mbarara Diocese. They were pulling me left and right trying to kiss my hands. I was saved by two Police men who pulled me out and put me in a car that drove me alone from Kololo to Parliament. Our Christians were so much overjoyed because they had spent 18 months, a long time, without a Shepherd.
It was in Parliament that Pope Paul VI made, among others, the famous statement “Africans must be Missionaries to themselves”. After Parliament we went for lunch. There was no official organized lunch; each one was to fend for himself. Bishop Barnabas and I were taken by Mr. Adrian Sibo, his brother- in law to a restaurant in Kampala. A very good dinner had been ordered. I was hungry and tired, I indeed relished the meal. Now I felt relaxed after all the ordeal we went through.
THE POPE’S RETURN TO ROME:
On the afternoon of Saturday 2nd August 1969, the Holy Father ended his visit closing the SECAM that he had opened on the 31st July 1969. He gave a very moving speech which will always be remembered.
Pope Paul VI had made a record to be the first Pope ever to set foot on the soil of the African Continent, which used to be called the Dark Continent. For four days it was resounding all over the world through modern communication media. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, shone with the splendour for the world to see.
The then President Milton Obote felt great to host such a world figure accompanied by so many prelates, not only from Africa but also all over the Catholic world – Kampala shone with splendour.
After the Pope’s concluding speech to the SECAM Assembly, he was escorted with a big motorcade to Entebbe National Airport. We the Ugandan Bishops and Ministers were again, as on his arrival, flown from Kololo to the Airport.
After seeing off the Pope, we came back to the Parliament building in Kampala to congratulate ourselves upon the successful visit of the Holy Father.
Ministers, Bishops and other world dignitaries had been invited by President Milton Obote for a cocktail party in the President’s office. There were all kinds of drinks that could be thought of. I had never seen and probably will never see big dignitaries drunk as on that night. One minister particularly drank himself nearly to death. He had to be dragged literally from the hall to his car.
At that party I took chance to talk with the then Archbishop E. Nsubuga arranging a date for my installation. As he was then the only metropolitan in Uganda, I thought it fitting to ask him to install me in my see of Mbarara.
Remember that although we were ordained Bishops by the Supreme Pontiff, it was outside our cathedral. This meant that sometime after each one of us had to take his see in front of his flock at home. My date was fixed for September 7th 1969.
THE DAY TO REMEMBER – MY RETURN TO MBARARA AS A BISHOP:
Sunday 3rd August 1969, we the Ugandan Bishops were invited to a general meeting at Nsambya Catholic Secretariat. We were then 12 Bishops;
Archbishop Emmanuel K. Nsubuga – Archbishop of Kampala.
- Bishop Adrian Ddungu – Bishop of Masaka.
- Bishop James Odongo – Bishop of Tororo diocese.
- Bishop Joseph Willigers – Bishop of Jinja diocese.
- Bishop Cyprian Kihangire of Gulu.
- Bishop Tarantino of Arua.
- Bishop Mazzoldi of Moroto.
- Bishop V. McCauley of Fort Portal.
- Bishop Ceasar Asili of Lira.
After the meeting we had a quick lunch and left for Mbarara. I was driven by my friend Fr. Dominic Kataribabo in his car with Fr. Hilary Tibanyenda the then Vicar Capitular as he was then called.
The congregation of the faithful had gathered from all over the Diocese early in the morning at the Cathedral. We stopped at Kijukizo parish to change and put on Episcopal robes. We were received by the late Fr. Paul Lukwago, Parish Priest. We set off from Kijukizo, led by a long motorcade of motor cycles and cars.
On arrival at Nyamitanga, the road up to the cathedral was packed with crowds. Some pushed our car up the hill, others sprayed flowers all over it. The bonnet of the car was covered with flowers to the point that the driver could not see ahead. When I saw these crowds, I was touched again as at the time of my consent to become the Bishop of Mbarara.
Seeing that entire crowd shouting for joy, I felt myself to be like Christ on Palm Sunday, and thought to myself that my Good Friday would come. I was so emotionally moved that I felt my heart bursting out of my chest.
On arrival at the cathedral, I asked Fr. Hilary to give me a few minutes to lie down on the bed and rest a while. Then we joined the procession of Priests from the Bishop’s house to the main entrance of the Cathedral. There were no bells yet as now. But all the possible musical instruments, drums, gongs, were sounded.
This was about 4.00 o’clock. As we entered the Cathedral our big organ played by the late Brother Karl intoned the reception hymn, “Yaija, Yaija”. The whole flock in the Cathedral took it up with a thunderous sound full of joy and happiness. I had never and will never hear this hymn sung again like that. My emotions grew high, I thought I would burst. Everybody was happy except me. I just imagined myself going to the gallows; I tried to muster some consolation all in vain.
On arrival at the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. I knelt down before it. It was then I began to regain my breath. I had a vivid presence of Jesus Christ. I felt his soft kind hand touch my heart. I said to Him that he was the only one who had made me reach so far, that He was the only one who knew how I felt and why I felt like that.
After that I got energy and stood up to address the congregation. I said: “I wish any of you could pierce my heart and see my agony”. As soon as I said that, instead of sympathetic move, the crowds yelled and screamed even louder. Actually, as I write now that evening has come back into my mind.
Finally I composed myself and addressed the congregation. But even now do not ask me what I said. I was so much lost in myself.
After the benediction I went and bid farewell to the faithful. We then we went for some refreshments at the administration house. There were the three generations of Bishops present; Bishop Lacourseire, Bishop J.M. Ogez and Bishop J. B. Kakubi. I was actually consoled and cheered up by the presence of these two elderly prelates. At that moment Bishop Ogez who had come for my ordination not so much for the Pope’s visit, embraced me very deeply and breathed a breathe of relief into me. I said to him at that time that he was the only one who knew what I was feeling.
The Size and Geographical Position of Mbarara Diocese:
Mbarara Diocese that I had been appointed to shepherd was 10,980 square kilometers and had a population of 223,687 Catholics, out of 633,933 total population.
It covered as it still does, the present districts;
By the time of my installation, we were 16 African priests as I said earlier.
- B. Kakubi
- Cyril Mbura.
Together with 49 expatriate missionaries and there were also religious women and men.
My first three years as a Bishop (1969 – 1972) were peaceful years in which I learnt the steps of governance, special ecclesiastical governance.
These co-operators were distributed in some diocesan offices and the majority in the Parishes that were by then the following;
I visited each and every Parish spending two or three days in each to acquaint myself with the pastoral, educational and social needs of our people.
On each pastoral visit I met the ordinary lay Catholics in a jovial happy meeting in which we discussed various aspects of Parish life. I met the catholic lay leaders alone, then catechists and religious people separately. Towards the end of my visits, I met the priests and exposed to them as spiritual leaders all I had learnt from their Parishes.
We had two seminaries; Kitabi and Mushanga Preparatory. I made also a point to visit them when the students were still at school.
MY FOCUS OF WORK:
To keep up the standards of my predecessors.
- Unity in the diocese based on Christian love.
- Develop self reliance schemes.
- Develop education at all levels.
- Develop health services.
- Care for all pastoral agents.
- Pastoral structures;
Important Land Marks in my Life as A Bishop:
Establishment of schools.
- Revival of the Congregation Our Lady of Good Counsel.
- New Parishes
- New Priests.
- Two Bishops at once.
To keep up standards left by my predecessors:
First punctuality and prompt letter writing. I had the opportunity to have lived close to Bishop Ogez; he was a man of foresight, planning, determination, straight forward, punctual and forward going. Some people thought him, being a French man, to be conservative. He was very much on the forefront in everything; liturgical, pastoral, social and even political.
As soon as I took over the reign of Mbarara Diocese, with a bit of the English background I had from my time in an English Seminary, I determined to fight against what many brand us as Africans, as having no sense of time. Right from the start I drilled into all those surrounding me with a sense of time and a sense of duty.
I fixed my daily timetable and also that of my whole administration always to start work at 8.30 am break at 12.30 pm and resume at 2.30 ending at 6.30. This was from Monday to Friday. My confirmations in parishes had been fixed at 10.00 am. I informed all parish Priests that if I delayed beyond one hour, the Parish Priest had the delegation automatically to confirm the candidates. This meant that I had had some serious reason not to go. I demanded punctuality at all our public functions. I had fixed days for each category of people who wanted to see me when I was in the office.
Mondays and Tuesdays were for priests, since priests had Monday as their free day. Every first Monday of the month was our clergy meeting. Wednesday was for religious, Thursday for other people while Friday was left for my personal work in the office. Nobody was supposed to come without prior appointment on that day. Saturdays and Sundays were my free days when I was at home, but most of the time I was out on one errand or another.
I had often heard Europeans branding us Africans as lazy letter-writers. That is why I made it a point to be prompt at answering letters, be they official or friendly. If the official ones were many, I would give some to my Vicar General to deal with.
Unity in the Diocese:
My next target was the unity of the Diocese. At the time of my installation as a Bishop of Mbarara, there were some elements of division especially among the clergy, though few we were. This division was based on ethnical origins. Banyaruguru who were thought not to be Banyankole were looked upon as outsiders and they tended to group themselves together against the rest. Other minor differences were based on the parish or county of origin.
Having been born and grown in the Diocese, I knew these differences very well. I knew very well that if we were not united as clergy as faithful, we could not build up a united Christian family, which a Diocese must be.
On my first pastoral visits of the Parishes, unity of the Diocese was my main theme. I based my teachings on unity in Ephesians 4: 1 – 7, 16 “ Bear with one another charitably in complete selflessness, gentleness, and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body one Spirit; just you are all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord one Faith one Baptism and one God who is Father of all, through all and within all” By the time I rounded up the 15 or so parishes that existed then, I had memorized the above quoted text.
I urged everybody to develop the Spirit of brotherly love. At our 1986 Synod, my theme of unity was made our Diocesan logo: Unitas in Domino or United in the Lord.
Without praising myself too much, one can say we did achieve some unity which made it possible to achieve the developments we made in Mbarara Diocese. The unity was very much observed at our monthly clergy meetings. It resulted, on the part of the laity the formation of Mbarara Diocese Development Association (MDDA), composed of both clergy and lay faithful but mostly lay. Its branch in Kampala is doing very well today. At home in the Diocese it is limping because of political affiliation.
To Develop Self-reliant Schemes:
Right from the start I initiated schemes that would help the Church and individuals to be economically self-reliant. I started an office, Social Service Office with one full time person; Brother Francis Dewes was the first person to organize this office. That is why we went into developing Kyabirukwa Diocese cattle farm and Ranch No. 44 in Nsaara, near Kabula or adjacent to lake Mburo. The two farms were very much affected by the 1979 and 1986 wars that were waged in and around Mbarara. As you can imagine Kyabirikwa Farm lost all 36 exotic cattle, the Ranch lost 3/4 of the boran breed of cattle.
For the general public we started with Thrift and Loan Societies: Biika Oguze, run by Mr. Tadeo Kacoboye the late. These enabled ordinary rank and file citizens to save and make interest through investing money in financial institutions.
PASTORAL ORGANISATION FOR THE DIOCESE:
Pastoral organization was my pre-occupation right from the start. I had learnt from Bishop Ogez his keenness to develop an efficient system of how to care and develop the work of looking after sheep entrusted to him.
I established seven Pastoral commissions. They are the following:
Pastoral to take care of all liturgical, catechetical and theological matters.
- Education as I have already indicated above.
- Social Economic Development for all that pertains to social, economic and political developments for the Church and individuals.
- For priests to take care of all that concerns priests such as Priests’ general welfare and ongoing formation.
- Religious – the same as for Priests.
- Catechists – the same as above.
- Laity; this would look after Lay Apostolate in general and organized.
MAJOR SET-BACKS IN MY LIFE AS A BISHOP OF MBARARA
As soon as I accepted to shoulder the burden of heading Mbarara diocese, I plunged myself into the job whole-heartedly. But of course I knew that I could not do it alone. So I entrusted the Diocese and my pastoral work to our Lady of Perpetual Help, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to whom I had already entrusted my life, on my very first arrival in the Diocese. These are two devotions dear to me, on my arrival as a Bishop in the Diocese.
I was also enabled in my work by the people I lived with, such as the saintly, humble and pious, Brother Karl Siebertz and Fr. George German.
This Fr. George became a great support even in my spiritual life. He actually was my spiritual director. It was with him that I made my 30 days’ retreat in Mwangaza, Kenya after the war of 1979. From there I had him always for my annual directed retreats.
As I said when I first arrived as a newly ordained Bishop, on the 3rd August 1969, I looked at the Eucharistic Jesus as the one to help me in thick and thin, and indeed he did. Looking back at what I went through, I cannot imagine that all was done by me, Kakubi. It was Jesus Christ who led me at the very beginning to accept the role of the Bishop and helped me throughout. I can say like St. Paul: “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galathians 2: 20).
The major set-backs in my pastoral life were three:
- The three wars waged around Mbarara.
- Lack of money and personnel.
- My poor health.
- The Death of My Parents.
1st. THE THREE WARS:
The first war was in 1972 as I mentioned in passing earlier on. This was not all that much serious; but being the first time, we local people to experience gunshot, it was frightening enough. I for one, I experienced it more than anybody else both exteriorly and interiorly as a spiritual leader. It was Sunday morning 17th September 1972, when I was in my white Peugeot alone going to Kyezimbire near Kikagate for confirmation of Christians. I had moved four miles out of Mbarara towards Kaberebere when I met a fleet of Lorries carrying armed men in military uniform. The first lorry stopped me. I thought they were our national army. They looked agitated. I asked them whether we were at war. One of them told me not to continue to Kikagate but to return home, that the situation was serious.
I obeyed and returned. But I did not follow them; I took another bush road through Kyabakazi, Kyera and Nsikye. I joined the Nyamitanga Congregation for 10 o’clock Mass.
The next Monday morning 18th September, I ventured alone in my car and went to the barracks. I asked Commander Gowon what was going on. Were we really at war and who had attacked us? The commander told me trying to quell my fears that there was no war that they had subdued the rebels. That there was no more danger. The reason why I went to ask was to send a priest to give the Sacraments to the soldiers in case there was real war.
On my way to the barracks, I had seen at least three dead bodies along the street in Mbarara town. As I was approaching the bridge, there was a heavy exchange of shooting. I could see a group of UNLA soldiers firing towards the river Rwizi. At that very moment the late Mr. Agustino Karugaba (a brigadier) arrived on the spot. We jumped out of our cars; he pressed me to hide especially my head in the trench. Which I did, without minding the filthy drainage. We only got up when the shooting had ceased.
On arrival at home, everybody was mourning, thinking I had been a victim of the gun-shots they had heard. That was the first short war we experienced in Mbarara. It was short lived but had very sad consequences.
After that Amin reinforced his hunt for all those he suspected; like Basil Bataringaya, Francis Tibayungwa, Bananuka, who were killed soon after. People in Mbarara began to live in fear.
It was after that, that even we Bishops became imprisoned in our homes. We could not visit parishes without permission of the local Police.
This was the beginning of the terrorizing period of Amin. The death of Bazil Bataringaya and Francis Tibayungwa touched me very deeply, not because they were my friends and Catholics, but the way they were brutally murdered.
Tibayungwa was picked up from the Ministry of Public Works’ Workshops near the River Rwizi and thrown into a boot of a small car like a bag of potatoes. He was driven to Simba Barracks where he was beaten to death by Amin’s murderous squads.
A few days before that, my other friend Basil Bataringaya was attacked by the same squad at his home in Kantojo and picked up. Before Basil was taken he managed to scribble on a rough piece of paper these words for me: “I am taken, come to my rescue”. Somebody managed to bring that paper to me in Nyamitanga. As soon as I read it, I rushed to town to the DC then Mr. Toskin, I told him that Basil had been arrested by military personnel and he wanted to talk to me as a priest. Mr. Toskin warned me not to venture searching for Basil. He further said he wondered if he was still alive. I came to him later at that moment Basil’s body probably was floating over the Rwizi passing under the bridge. We never saw his body.
I received nearly every day news of one or other person killed, whether civil servant or just ordinary civilian. It was a difficult time to work in, let alone to minister to people. But I managed to stay calm and steady depending always on God’s power.
THE SECOND WAR FEBRUARY – MAY 1979
This war was planned from the time of the Museveni’s abortive invasion of 1972 and precipitated firstly by the attack of Amin on Tanzania trying to capture the Kagyera Basin, which he claimed to belong to Uganda ; secondly by so many insults of Amin thrown on to President Nyerere going as far as calling him a woman.
The 1979 war was a combination of Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles under the banner of Fronasa. On 20th January 1979 10,000 troops crossed to Uganda. They attacked Uganda on two fronts; one front took Mutukula route towards Masaka. This was meant to capture Masaka and proceed to Kampala. The second front composed of Tanzania troops led by General Mayunga and Ugandan troops led by Museveni crossed the Kagyera River at a very difficult time–January 1979. There was no bridge. There was a poor small ferry on which the troops had to cross the Kagyera to Kikagate in Uganda.
Soon after a fleet of artillery arrived on the compound of the cathedral while I was still showing Mayunga our Church premises. He was happy to see the artillery arrive. I said to him why he had to choose our hill. We were becoming a target of Amin. He said they found this to be the most strategic spot to locate his artillery. Soon after all types of big guns were ferried into the ground between the Secretarial College and the Monastery of the Poor Clares. It was then I realized that we were really occupied and were in for trouble. No one could argue him out of his decision.
On the same morning at around 11 o’clock, I was called out to meet another commander. This was Museveni with about ten other soldiers. They looked tired and exhausted. I immediately recognized him and he recognized me too, from the time we were both at Ntare. I as a Chaplain and him as a senior six student in 1964. He asked me if I could get him some water to drink. At first I was hesitant fearing to be associating with enemies of the State. Good enough I as a Christian took him to my office and gave him a drink of water which he galloped with zest. They were thirsty and hungry. They had walked all night from Isingiro following the Tanzanian artillery. Museveni and his Ugandan soldiers pitched their camp downhill in the Nyamitanga Technical School buildings.
We stayed with these armies on Nyamitanga hill over four months from February to May. The soldiers vacated St. Michael’s convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel on May 4th 1979. The whole army left Nyamitanga with their artillery on Friday 11th may, 1979. That is when I was able to leave my see to visit the Parishes and to go around elsewhere. Kampala fell into the hands of the National Liberation Army on the 10th April, 1979 Thursday. There was a lot of rejoicing all over the country and a great sigh of relief. Three days later President Lule was sworn in as President, 13th April, to be deposed later on 19th June 1979.
THE 1985 WAR WAS MY THIRD SET-BACK:
Without going into the how and why of this war, I must say it tasked my nerves much more than the previous one. This was the war staged from Tanzania by the National Liberation Army planned by Fronasa with the help of President Nyerere. It was the climax of Museveni’s bush war started in 1980.
The war in Mbarara:
On Thursday 12th September 1985, the National Liberation Army attacked Simba Mbarara barracks but failed to capture it. I was at Buhungiro on 15th September when I came to learn that there had been a battle between the National Liberation Army and Lutwa’s at Mbarara stock farm, four miles from Mbarara. Remember Obote had been overthrown by that time.
Actually I did not enjoy my birthday the 23rd September that year as I often did. War was already upon us. By November all the food stores in Mbarara and the surroundings were empty. I was very much worried about those people in town. The Museveni soldiers would move up to the petrol station across and engage the government army and come back. The government barracks with their heavy artillery would send missiles to us, one of them at one time hit our stores in Nyamitanga.
We asked one of the commanders why they did not advance to capture the barracks. He said that was their tactic. Because they were fighting a psychological war, a kind of laying siege. They wanted to starve them. Such protracted war drained me. My brother Bishop Magambo in Fort Portal, which was already under Museveni, heard I was having a nervous breakdown. He came on 10th November with Tom Butime and the late Fr. Albert Byaruhanga to tell me to go away for a break. I went to Kabale and stayed with Bishop Halem’Imana for four days. I felt a real relief. On the 29th November, 1985, we took the sick Fr. Charles Mali to Kigali to fly him to Nairobi for treatment.
On the 17th December, the peace agreement was signed in Nairobi by General Tito Okello and Yoweri Museveni. But even the fighting continued around Mbarara and other parts of the country. It was not until Kampala fell to the Resistance army of Museveni on the 26th January, 1986, that we could claim to be at peace. Although we did not lose much property as in the previous war, we did suffer much internally.
THIRD SET-BACK IN MY LIFE – THE DEATH OF MY PARENTS:
I loved my parents very dearly much, more than any of my brothers and sister. May be because I was the first-born child. The departure of both affected me very much in my life as head of the Diocese. My mother had always been very sickly. She suffered from stomach ulcers; they used to call that stomach pain (enjoka empanami). But she survived my father by eleven years.
My father who kept good health up to the age of 89 was always healthy. He served as a lay catechist for well over 40 years. He lived a normal regular life. His calabash of beer (tonto) was never empty, but he never got drunk.
In January 1990, he started feeling pain in the throat but could continue to swallow. His situation got worse in February. In March, we took him to Nsambya Hospital where he was diagnosed to have cancer of esophagus. But the doctor did not reveal this to us until late in the sickness. I spent the whole month of March away looking after him with my brother in Nsambya Hospital. My Vicar General and the then Coadjutor Bishop Paul Bakyenga, took over the supervision of the Diocese.
Towards the end of his life, when I saw that he was dying, I decided to take him back still breathing. He could not any more walk or travel by car long distances. So Mr. Borniface Katatumba offered to bring us in his five seater plane to Nyakisharara. This was on Friday 16th March 1990. We spent the night at my residence, the Bishop’s house. The following day we drove him quietly to Birunduma. He spent a whole week in coma; he died on the early morning of Sunday 25th March 1990 at 3.15 am.
We buried him on Tuesday 27th March, 1990. Nearly all the priests of the diocese came for the burial. I tried to maintain my inner grief in public but alone burst out in tears.
My father had always been a support to me and adviser in my work as a priest and even as a Bishop. From then on I was to live alone without him, to come home and have not him to exchange ideas.
My mother as I said earlier had been sick for a long time. During the 1986 war she was with me at Nyamitanga. She was in my Bishop’s house also when Amin’s soldiers invaded my house at night. She suffered towards the end of her life acute rheumatic arthritis, so much so that at the end she could not stretch her limbs, both legs and arms. I nursed her at Ibanda where I had retired, in the hospital or in my house for well over six months. She died at home in Birunduma on Saturday 4th August 2001. I was away for a wedding in Kampala. That was a bitter experience; the mother I had looked after for so long to die in my absence. I was so emotionally moved that I could hardly read out the speech I had written down.
We were many more people for my mother’s burial on Monday 6th August 2001 than at my father’s. She too died a good Christian life. Fr. Deusdedit Mulinde was at her death bed to administer the Sacraments of the dying. May she too rest in eternal peace.
CONSOLING ACHIEVEMENTS IN MY BISHOPRIC:
There are many consoling landmarks in my life. I will pick up few which have a reference to Mbarara Diocese.
In the Education Field:
My great consolation and joy is the establishment and presence of five Post Primary Education Institutions namely;
Joseph’s Vocational Secondary School.
- Mary Hill High School
- Cecilia Vocational Girls’ Secondary School.
- Kaggwa High School.
- Kitabi Seminary.
The Synod of 1986.
This was a landmark in my pastoral career as a Bishop. This preceded and was followed by several diocesan pastoral councils that produced tangible fruits.
One of these fruits is the unity of the Diocese. We all, priests, religious, catechists and the Lay faithful worked together in carrying out our mission of purpose under the motto of “United in Christ”.
I can state without hesitation that I loved my fellow priests and they loved me; of course there were some quarrels here and there. The Banyankole have a proverb that; “Abaturaine tibaburwa bucokore”, which means “Those living together can never avoid quarrels.
Progress and Development of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
I was and I am very happy to see the tremendous progress in all fields the Congregation of Our Lady of Good Counsel has made since 1972, after their chapter which I prepared with them and presided over.
When I invited all the members then to a preparatory conference conducted by Bishop G. Nkalanga and the late Bishop Magambo, they all thought we were going to disband the Congregation. But now the Congregation can claim to be the best in the country; a pride and joy for the founders, the Canadian sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel of Chicoutimea and ours. The very diverse apostolate today’s Sisters engage in are the proof of what I am saying.
Appointment of Two Bishops from my Diocese at Once.
The last but not least consoling achievement was the appointment as Bishops of two of my priests on the same day; Fr. Egidio Nkaijanabwo and Fr. Paul Bakyenga. The announcement came on 1st April, 1989. It was a great joy for me especially, but also for the Diocese. My great joy was that Paul was appointed my coadjutor; therefore he was a definitive person to succeed me in the see of Mbarara.
I organized very diligently for his ordination which we fixed to be on my Patron Saint day, St. John the Baptist, 24th June, 1989. The ordination took place at Kakyeka Stadium. I and Cardinal Nsubuga were the main consecrators of the New Bishop. Big dignitaries were present the chief of them was The President of Uganda, Museveni. The day was very well organized. The whole celebration was highly appreciated. It was well organized and orderly. Thanks to the organizing committees.
MY RETIREMENT 1991–2010 AT IBANDA:
I chose personally to live in Ibanda as a retired Bishop because there was a variety of Pastoral work in which I could be well occupied. Secondly the then Chaplaincy for the Teachers’ College was vacant and I always had my eye on that house.
At Ibanda there was Ibanda Hospital with a School of Midwifery and Nursing without a Chaplain. There were two secondary Schools and a Teacher Training College without a Priest Chaplain. Moreover, I had my eye on this old vacant Chaplaincy for the sick and retired priests.
Although many of my friends did not like my going to Ibanda, so soon after Fr. Alex You was murdered on 15th April, 1991 at the Parish.
On arrival in Ibanda the Teacher Training College and Secondary School chaplain had just been appointed in the person of Fr. B. Zabajungu. He was staying at the Parish. I joined him there. We lived in the Parish for six months, while we were repairing our present house and making it to our liking.
On 1st September 1992, we entered our renovated house, but with Fr. Vincent Birungi who had replaced Fr. Zabajungu. The latter had left for studies in United States.
I had already requested Bishop Bakyenga to call our residence not a Bishop’s house but Ibanda Priests’ house, designated to be for retired, sick and old Priests. As soon as I arrived at Ibanda I took on the chaplaincy of the Hospital and of the Convent for the old and sick Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel at Rwengiri.
I also started, with permission of the local Ordinary to plan for putting up housing facilities for the incoming priests.
SPIRITUAL ACTIVITIES IN MY RETIRED DAYS:
Apart from material works and engagements which I have described above, I was very much involved in the Spiritual life of my people in and around the Diocese.
As a chaplain of Ibanda Hospital and School of Nursing and Midwifery, I always made it a point to give community members of the Hospital spiritual retreats and the necessary Sacraments.
I have enjoyed my life as a priest, a Bishop and retired Bishop. I always had good communities to enable me to live my priestly life well. But what I have found most helpful is the Eucharist, Jesus in the Eucharist and my daily Mass. These have been my strong bastion in life.
I hope in my old age, they will still be my safeguards till the Good Lord calls me to His home. I am now 80 years old, 40 years a Bishop, 50 years a Priest. These are years to thank God for.
I have written a book “A DAY TO REMEMBER” at the request of the old boys of St. Joseph’s Vocational Secondary School Nyamitanga, who sponsored its printing and publication. Also on my part, I have written this book in gratitude to God and to all those who have walked with me on my path in the life up to now. The book is currently at publication level by Fountain Publishers and will be launched sometime to come.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL!