I almost rejected appointment to become bishop – Ssekamanya

I was born on October 15, 1936, in Buububi village in Luweero District but my parents moved to Kisuule near Katikamu, Luweero, where I grew up from. The nearby villages of Kasala and Katikamu had no parishes, the nearest was in Mulaje, about 11 miles from home, and my father rode his bicycle there every Sunday for mass.

Whenever he returned from church he used to tell me, “Your godfather sends you greetings.” One time my father came back and told me my “godfather sends me greetings and thinks it’s time I started learning religion”.

By that time many children were staying at parish headquarters under the care of religious sisters. He gave me the chance to choose between staying with my godfather or at the parish headquarters like other children. I had never seen my godfather but because my father used to speak so much about him, I chose to go to my godfather. In 1945 at Luwube out station I got my first holy communion before I even started my catechism lessons.

After six months of catechism class, I started going to school at Mulaje Primary School where I picked interest in being an alter server. Since my godfather’s home was close to the parish, I was at the parish every morning as early as 7am ready to serve mass. While in Primary Three, I picked interest in singing and it was during that time that I caught the attention of a young priest at the parish.

One Sunday after service, Father Joachim Masagazi (RIP)alled me to his office. I had never talked to him and I wondered what I had done, knowing that I was a very troublesome young boy. In the office, the priest closed the door and told me: “Don’t you want to become a priest and evangelise your people?” I had never given it a thought, so he asked me to think about it.

Unfortunately, shortly after that encounter he went to Rome to study Canon Law. When he came back, it was towards independence and with special permission from the Vatican, he joined the first Parliament.

Before Fr Masagazi left for Rome, he told me to go and stay at the parish for better grooming. His successor, Fr Eugene Jjemba, was equally good and I enjoyed my time with him. Unfortunately he is also deceased now.

Having completed Primary Four at Mulaje, I joined Kisubi Minor Seminary in Primary Five in 1952 where I completed my primary, junior and secondary education. In 1959, I joined Katigondo Major Seminary for seven years where I started another struggle in philosophy and theology. In 1965, I was ordained a priest and at the beginning of the following year, I started my priest life.

Priest life
My fist and beloved place of posting where I started my evangelising ministry was Jinja Karoli in Kawempe Division. As a young priest from the time I joined seminary, my focus was one thing evangelising, making people good Christians and teaching people about God. With the help of the parish priest in my first posting, I was satisfied with what I set out to do. I went out on home visits and within a month the number of people coming to church increased.

After two years, I was transferred to Kayunga as the parish priest before taking nine months at Gaba seminary and then went back to Gayaza as a parish priest for a year and half, and it was my last parish.

In 1973, I was assigned to Katigondo Major Seminary for a year and half teaching spiritual guidance. It was from there that I went to Rome to study Spiritual Theology for five years at Gregorian University run by Jesuit priests.

When I returned in 1978, I was appointed general spiritual director at Gaba Major Seminary which is a theological national seminary. After a couple of years, I was appointed the rector of the same seminary until 1985 when I was made the auxiliary bishop of Kampala.

On the turbulent days
The period between 1972 and 1973 was very difficult. I was in Katigondo and it was not easy to get the essentials to run the seminary. I had to line up in Masaka on a number of occasions to get some essentials such as sugar.

Beyond the social life, some people, most especially those in government circles, did not want to be identified as Christians, it was sad seeing people denying their religion.
During the civil war in the Obote II regime, many people became homeless. The cathedral at Rubaga became home for many. Every night I was overwhelmed by women seeking shelter. Many of these people were from Bulemezi and places around Kampala.

Cardinal Wamala assigned me the responsibility of looking after the people who sought refuge at the cathedral, as a result, I pleaded with foreign donors to help us with things such as tinned food and medicine. We received containers of clothes and medicines. I risked going as far as the war zone in Kapeka to deliver relief items.

I traversed the Luweero war zone, pleading with soldiers on behalf of the church to stop the torture and rape. I was doing this at the cost of my life.

In a worse situation, I would use the military helicopter to access and deliver assistance to the displaced people. Twice I went to the Protestant church in Luweero and found it full of people who had been displaced and they were in a bad state, starving to near death.

Because of the risks involved, I sometimes had to get government soldiers to accompany me to the places that I had to go and give people some assistance. Many people had run to the parish in Mpigi, mostly women, and many had been raped.

Next to the parish was a military camp, I went over to talk to the soldiers and I asked them why they were torturing people and a soldier replied that it was the Whites who had taught them how to torture.

One of them pointed a gun at me, threatening to shoot, but was prevailed over by his colleagues. I had gone with a lorry to collect the women and children and bring them to the hospital for treatment. Some women were so humiliated for what they had gone through that when they reached Nsambya hospital they ran away before getting treatment.

Serving as a bishop
The higher you go, the harder it gets for you. No one wants to become a bishop, I personally never dreamt of becoming a bishop. Being a bishop is very demanding. When I was told of the appointment, I became angry and the person who brought me the news of my appointment got scared. There is no joy in being appointed a bishop, I had the liberty to turn down the appointment but after a second thought, I decided to serve the people.

When one is being ordained a bishop, part of the prayer goes “. The church asks you to give this man the burden of a bishop” When you see the bishop wearing a cross it’s not for decoration, but to remind you of the crossburden you are carrying. I don’t think that there is a priest who envies becoming a bishop.

On politics
My mission is to unite and not to divide. I am not a politician and my concern is to serve every one, therefore I aise and bring together different groups. I don’t have to take sides because my responsibility is to serve and bring everybody to Christ, though it’s a challenge to see that I do it in a way which will not divide people, but unite them.

When I was in Kampala (as auxiliary bishop) it was part of my responsibility to make political statements, but now I don’t. Right now there is a lot of tribalism, dishonesty and lack of responsibility to serve the public, but I don’t point fingers or attack an individual.

Where I see it’s going overboard, I call the concerned individual privately and I talk to him or her. But at the same time I don’t disagree with religious leaders who express their views in public.
Uganda’s current biggest problem is individualism and poor sense of God. What I mean by this is, do you practice what you believe in God, if so, how do you express that.

On families
We have high levels of violence in homes in Uganda today, and this is not a preserve for the poor or uneducated people alone. Domestic violence is cutting across all kinds classes in the country. Unless there is change in family values and people go back to the basics of real family values, the vices we see in society now are going to get worse.

People need to come down and live a life according to Christian principles, even Christian families are not happy and this is tripling everywhere. People are smiling and laughing but deep down they are living very miserable lives.

In retirement
Though retired, I have been ordained as a priest and that’s where my life is and I will keep doing my pastoral work. I am not worried of what I’m going to do I am a priest till when I die.

About Bishop Ssekamanya

Bishop Matthias Ssekamanya was born at Luteete Health Centre on October 15, 1936, Mulajje Parish (then Kampala Archdiocese) now Kasana-Luweero.

He was ordained priest on December 19, 1965 at Rubaga Cathedral by Bishop J. Grief. Appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Kampala Archdiocese on March 30, 1985 and consecrated on June 2, 1985 at Namugongo by Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga.

He was appointed first bishop of Lugazi on November 30, 1996.

He took canonical possession of Lugazi on February 23, 1997.
Lugazi Diocese was created on February 23, 1997 with the outgoing bishop as its First Ordinary. This territory was formerly part of the Archdiocese of Kampala.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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