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Goodbye ArchBishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga

I joined the St Josephs SSS Naggalama school late. My classmates had gone some weeks, if not months, ahead by the time I showed up. I was allocated to my stream and on the very first day, in that dark of the night prep, I was bullied.

The bullying set me back a mile, I was incapable of defending myself in the midst of strangers, I had little if any, to start from but soon, I later found some ropes. I was an introvert but also a disciplinarian. I arrived in class on time, did my assignments and spent most of my afternoons with a priest, the school’s chaplain – Pere Wasswa.

Pere Wasswa used to teach us Moral Studies. It was a subject that taught us how to relate using the set of values left anchored in the Catholic Church. Pere Wasswa recommended me to become an Altar Boy and there, I started out strong.

As an altar boy, the ultimate high of the job is to hold the thurible [The metallic instrument from which incense is dispensed] for a Bishop during mass. As an altar boy, in my earlier days, we didn’t get to do that. However, in my S3, Miiro, the then leader of the altar boys recommended Frederic Mpalanyi, a friend and myself to lead a mass that had a gathering of Bishops in it. It was St. Josephs Day, and the mass involved The Rt Bishop Matthias Ssekamanya who had invited his friend, Archbishop, now late, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.

Whilst laying out his robes in the Bishops room, we had noted that he was slightly shorter than other Bishops but we’d also noted he had a meticulous arrangement of his briefcase, unlike other Bishops. When he greeted us – Mpalanyi and I, he preferred to hug us and pinch at our cheeks, unlike the other Bishops who tapped on our shoulders. He was interested – rather genuinely – in knowing our names and what classes we were in and what our favorite subjects were. He struck me, immediately, as a man who valued friendship.

From that encounter, he always referred to us as – His Favorite Altar boys. Frederick and I, perhaps to add here, were equally short and perhaps that made us a good pick.

At many school functions to which he was invited, Cyprian sought us out and spoke to us about career and about trusting in the Lord. He had delighted in finding out my mother worked very closely at the highest echelon of the Catholic Church, the Uganda Episcopal Conference.

Archbishop Cyprian – to whom a dormitory in the school was named – was also amiable and polite. He carried on life not in any form of rush. He cared for detail – detail and detail. I remember, at one of the masses we were altar boys, he asked before we entered the church, how many spoons of incense we had added to the Thurible. He had worried that the smoke coming out of it was far too much to sustain a whole mass. So he took out time, right before mass could begin, to teach us a new way to mix incense.

“And that, my boys, is how you do it” he’d remark after teaching us.

He admired singing – and mostly choirs. Naggalama had a favorite choir called the Boys Choir which animated mass on one occasion each term [Yes, we also had a girls choir].

He always admired the animation of the Boys’ Choir and it wasn’t odd to catch him, seated back in his chair during mass, humming along and rather excitedly singing out a hymn.

I will also fondly remember him for, among many things, caring about the welfare of altar boys he had led mass with. On the big days, after mass, altar boys always fizzled out and went back to find food almost done. Mass would end and as the Bishops marched into their house for the feast, we’d certainly wait to take off the altar garbs we were wearing – after that would be done, we’d often find the food in school done – or rather the very last parts of it. For Archbishop Cyprian, if you served with him, then you came in with him into the Bishops room and shared the food that had been prepared for him.

I later, after all these interactions as Altar Boy – Bishop met him during the way of the cross – then as a reporter for a media house. He now knew me as a TV reporter but when I reminded him of the favorite altar boy, he was taken back by deep joy and reminded me how, with his guidance, I had learnt about incense and the Thurible. He was keen then, to find out if I was still a staunch and devout catholic.

There will be many ways in which Archbishop Lwanga will be remembered and by many different people but these are the ways in which I will personally remember him. A giant of a man bodied in such short height with a generous heart and parent-persona. I will remember him for his willingness to come down from the high pedestal of an Archbishop to teach a small boy like myself a lesson as important as mixing incense. I will remember him for letting Altar boys share his lunch – a specific caring heart that must surely have come out of good grooming.

Fare Thee Well, God be with you till we meet again 

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Written by Mujuni Raymond

Journalist, News Anchor, Columnist, Editor. Show Host. Investigative - at times. Awarded.

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