'He tirelessly worked for peace and justice' – Ugandans pay tribute to late Orthodox Archbishop

Uganda’s late Orthodox Archbishop, Jonah Lwanga, was honoured with tributes from religious leaders, politicians and human rights advocates and an official state funeral on Tuesday.

Lwanga was the Archbishop of Kampala and Exarch of All Uganda in the Uganda Orthodox Church, making him the spiritual leader of more than 600,000 Orthodox Christian Ugandans. He died on September 5 after an unspecified long illness at 76 years of age.

The late Archbishop was highly was respected as both a capable denominational leader and human rights advocate. Under his leadership, the Orthodox faith in Uganda expanded to around 80 priests and 105 Orthodox communities.

Earlier this month, the Orthodox parish priest of Namungoona, the Very Reverend Father Nicholas Bayego, presided over a memorial mass for the Prelate on Monday, September 6 at St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, Namungoona.

The priest said Lwanga had made a great contribution to the development of the Church and the country,” reported Mathias Mazinga for New Vision Uganda. 

“He was an imposing figure, a great religious leader. He preached the Gospel in its authenticity. He had that prophetic disposition, which always gave him invincible courage to fight for truth, justice and human rights for all Ugandans. He was a true patriot, a real prophet of God. The Lion of the Orthodox Church has fallen. The Lion has slept. We need your prayers,” Bayego said.

“He tirelessly worked for peace and justice. He was a real father, always ready to listen and forgive. One unaccomplished project that has always been on his lips is the proposed Orthodox centennial monument, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, which he was planning to build at Lubya. We pray that his successor gives it a priority,” Bbosa said.

“He paid my fees from primary school, up to university. He was a humble servant of God, very obedient and hardworking.” – Sister Irene Nakirize

At the memorial service, the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Uganda Orthodox Church, Fr John Kibuuka Bbosa, also paid tribute to the late Archbishop.

“He was a pillar figure as far as the Uganda Orthodox Church is concerned. He built churches, monasteries, hospitals, and schools. He gave bursaries to many needy children. He encouraged and sponsored priests and nuns to do advanced studies,” he said.

Sister Irene Nakirize, an Abbess of St Irene Monastery in Kasangati, described Lwanga as her “paternal uncle and benefactor.”

“He paid my fees from primary school, up to university. He was a humble servant of God, very obedient and hardworking,” Nakirize said.

“He was a true religious leader and prophet. He was steadfast in his condemnation of the country’s socio-economic evils including corruption, nepotism, tribalism, oppression and repression. As a church leader, he was a real father to his priests and us nuns. He empowered us, counselled us, settled our disputes and reconciled us.”

Lwanga was elected to the ecclesiastical office on May 12 1997, holding it until his death. His official title was Metropolitan of the Holy Metropolis of Kampala and All Uganda.

As head of the Orthodox Church, Lwanga stressed that children and young people were the future of Orthodox Christianity and subsequently focused on education and youth empowerment programs. He is credited with East African now having the largest number of Orthodox Christians in Africa.

In Ugandan Parliament on Tuesday, Deputy Speaker Jessica Alupo noted that the presence of leaders from other religious beliefs at his official state burial showed that Archbishop Jonah Lwanga touched the hearts of all Ugandans with his good deeds. She said the nation had “lost him and his wise counsel.”

The Parliament passed a resolution “to collectively convey its deep condolences to the bereaved family, relatives, friends, the Orthodox Church and the people of Uganda for the loss of a distinguished citizen and spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church in Uganda”. It also acknowledged “the dedicated service and contribution” by the late Archbishop “to the people of Uganda and the world in general.”

Third Deputy Prime Minister Rukia Nakadama moved the motion, saying Lwanga was “emphatic against all forms of injustice including human rights violations” and “an exemplary leader who participated in the shaping of the lives of Ugandans and served the Orthodox Church with dedication.

Seconding the motion, Opposition Leader Mathias Mpunga said Lwanga’s life “was humble but complete, and was firm in defending humanity and human dignity”.