Archbishop Bakyenga’s 50 years as Mbarara lead shepherd
When he was ordained a priest in 1971, Paul Kamuza Bakyenga, like Pope Paul I, thought he would serve his calling and retire possibly at rank of a Parish priest.
But in January 2022, Archbishop Bakyenga celebrated 50 years of priesthood . The ceremony to bid farewell to Archbishop Bakyenga, who retired in 2020, was delayed by two years due to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Archbishop Bakyenga had since 1999 been the head of the Catholic ecclesiastical province of Mbarara – comprising the dioceses of Kabale, Kasese, Fort Portal and Hoima, at the rank of Archbishop. In 2020, Pope Francis accepted Archbishop Bakyenga’s request for retirement and then appointed Rt Rev Lambert Bainomugisha to replace him.
“I never thought I would become a bishop. I never expected the appointment at all. God knows how I came this far. I even read the wrong courses – I did sacred scripture, bishops study church canon law,” Archbishop Bakyenga said earlier during mass with Mbarara Archdiocese Catholic community at Kitante Primary School. Though he was appointed Bishop on March 6, 1989, the official appointment came out on April 1 the same year.
“Many thought maybe, it was an April 1st fool’s day prank,” Bishop Bakyenga joked.
A fourth born in a family of 10 children of Sipiriano Kamuza and Maria Gakibayo of Bumbaire, Igara in Bushenyi District, Archbishop Bakyenga was born on June 30, 1944.
He went to Ibaare Primary School, before he joined Ibanda Preparatory Seminary from 1958 to 1960. He attended his pre-primary school in the church building at Bweeza in his birth village of Bumbabire, writing on sand and banana leaves.
“My father was not rich, he grew up an orphan, supporting himself. He never went to school. My grandfather was a pagan. He was not baptised. But my mother had longed for a God-fearing man whom she found in my father,” Archbishop Bakyenga said during an earlier interview at his residence in Mbarara. His mother was a potter.
For Archbishop Bakyenga to enroll into a preparatory seminary, his young brother’s primary education had to be sacrificed so that his father could raise enough money for his studies.
The archbishop said he chose to join the seminary because he was inspired by students of Kitabi, a famous seminary in his neighbourhood, which he passed by on his way to Ibaare Primary School.
“It’s not that I wanted to be a priest – that never crossed my mind at the time,” he says. He said the Kitabi Seminary students were caring, smart and very good at sports.
In 1961, he joined Kitabi Seminary and then enrolled at Bukalasa seminary in 1965 for A-Level studies but he did not complete.
“At Bukalasa, we got stubborn and we were stopped,” he says.
He then tried to join Radio Uganda as a newsreader in the same year but could not raise transport to travel to Kampala in time for the interview and ended up missing out on the opportunity.
He decided to go to Rushoroza Seminary in Kabale and teach. At one time, he gave his father Shs319, who had migrated to Ngomanungi, present day Sheema District, to expand his land and settle to feed his family and remained with a balance of Shs.71 which he used to buy a watch.
His father had left the land in Bumbaire, Igara to Bakyenga’s elder brother.
He then enrolled at Katigondo to study philosophy but two years later ,Rt.Rev Jean Marie Ogez his bishop by then sent him to study at St Andrews College in Scotland, where he would obtain a degree in Theology. He was ordained a priest on July 11, 1971 at Mushanga parish at the age of 27.
Eighteen years later, 45-year-old Bakyenga was appointed bishop.
He also served as Chaplain of Ntare School in Mbarara, Rector of Kitabi Seminary, and Rector at Ggaba National Seminary from 1985 to 1989, when he was appointed bishop co-ajuta of Mbarara Diocese.
On January 2, 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Bakyenga archbishop at the age of 55.
Archbishop Bakyenga said his most trying time as head of church in Mbarara was the March 2000 death of hundreds of Christians at the hands of the Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments headed by Joseph Kibwetere, who were burnt in the Kanungu inferno.
He also said he would never forget the sad memories brought by the 1993 accident on Mbarara-Ishaka Road, in which 23 students of Kitabi Seminary, who were coming from a football match in Mbarara, perished on the spot.
“I have lost many priests, lay Christians who were close to me and used to advise me. I have also lost two Vicar Generals – and Ndyabahika Odomal and Msgr.Edward Beinganamuntu . All these have been trying moments,” he said then.
Archbishop Bakyenga was also a very talented and humorous preacher.
Paul Kamuza Bakyenga
Background. Born at Bumbaire, Igara, Bushenyi on June 30, 1944.
Education. He holds a degree in Theology from St. Andrews College, Scotland and a Master’s of Sacred Scripture from Biblical Institute of Georgian University in Rome Italy.
Career. Ordained priest on July 11, 1971, at Mushanga Parish in Bushenyi.
He was appointed Bishop Co-adjutor of Mbarara on March 6, 1989 and ordained June 24, 1989 at Kakyeeka Stadium in Mbarara. On November 23, 1991 he succeeded Bishop JB Kakubi as bishop of Mbarara Diocese. On January 2, 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Mbarara (former Rwenzori Vicariate comprising the dioceses of Kabale, Kasese, Fort-Portal, Hoima and Mbarara). For six years from 2002 to 2008, he was chairman of Bishops of Eastern and Central Africa (AMECEA). He also served as Chancellor of Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi, and Catholic University of Eastern Africa and sat on the Board of Trustees for the Catholic Church-owned Centenary Bank.
Mr Boniface Barinyenka, a founder head teacher of several Church-owned schools in Mbarara Archdiocese:
“Archbishop Bakyenga was a renowned evangelist, one of the greatest we have heard. He transformed the old Mbarara diocese; he was behind the expansion of education and medical services in the diocese, having started many schools and hospitals. He was a friend to religious leaders of all faiths. We have lost a Church pillar,”
Mathias Mpuuga, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
I join mother Church to mourn the passing of His Grace Paul Kamuza Bakyenga, the Emeritus Archbishop of Mbarara who died this morning at Nsambya Hospital. Archbishop Bakyenga had an illustrious career in the Lord’s vineyard where he served 52 years as a priest, 32 years as a Bishop and 24 years as Archbishop. My sympathies go to his family, Archbishop Lambert Bainomugisha and the Christians of Mbarara Ecclesiastical Province. We pray for his eternal repose.
Thomas Tayebwa, Deputy Speaker of Parliament
Sadness has again engulfed us with the passing on of His Grace Paul Bakyenga.He has been my spiritual father, a cheerleader, and counsellor to many of us. His Grace has been a rare breed of a preacher whose message could deeply resonate with the congregation. He personally urged me as a leader to always find time to speak to God in a quiet place every day and embark on a journey of spiritual self-discovery. This has helped me so much to discover my vocation and purpose. My condolences to His Grace Lambert, Archbishop of Mbarara, His personal friend Kaguta Museveni, his family, AMDA, MEPA community, and all people of God.
Vice President Jessica Alupo
I’ve just learnt, with deep sorrow, the passing on of Archbishop Paul Bakyenga, God’s humble servant who only celebrated 50 years of Priesthood last year. I send my condolences to His family, the Catholic Church, all Christians and people of Uganda. May God rest His Soul in Peace.
What others say about Bishop Bakyenga
“He (Archbishop Bakyenga) would joke over an issue that some of us might tremble over. He does not rush when dealing with problems. He is a priest from the ordinary rank and file of priesthood,”
Late Bishop John Baptist Kakubi, Bishop Emeritus, Mbarara
“God gave us a blessing in Archbishop Bakyenga. In his tenure, the gap between the laity and clergy has narrowed down tremendously. We now look at religious men as our brothers, sisters, and friends,”
Dennis Ahimbisibwe, former Secretary General Mbarara Archdiocese Development Association
“Archbishop Bakyenga has been a true shepherded by uniting the people of God, caring for the poor and welcoming strangers. He has led by example, from Mbarara Archdiocese to the AMECEA,”
Rev Fr Martin Ndyanabo, Canada
“Like Mother Mary with humility, Archbishop Bakyenga gave his yes to God’s will. He has a warm ear and has embraced many souls. His hands have blessed generations,”
Dorothy Atuhaire, Kyoga parish
“He inspired many to join priesthood. He has been a true icon, helping the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners and above all supporting his clergy,”
Fr Zeddy Byabashaija, Rubindi.
“Archbishop Bakyenga is one of the simplest but very inspiring men of God I have met. He is admiringly talented as a preacher and I am always grateful he visited our home on one of his pastoral visits and freely interacted with us,”
Nice Barungi, Buhimba parish.
“We thank God for the many gifts He has given Archbishop Bakyenga that he shared with his people,”
Sr Mary Germina Keneema.
Archbishop Bakyenga has a lot to be proud of. The number of Catholics in the diocese, which covers 10 former Ankole districts, has grown from about 700,000 to more than 1.2 million today. When he became a bishop, the diocese had 18 parishes but now boasts of 66. The development of the diocese has been so profound that there is a recommendation to give Bushenyi its own independent diocese. “The proposal is there (in Vatican) but for us, we give recommendations, we do not decide,” he said.
Archbishop Bakyenga’s leadership has been particularly strong in education and social services such as health – pioneering the St Joseph’s University in Mbarara, and a specialised hospital for children – The Holy Innocents Children Hospital at Nyamitanga – which treats children up to 12 years. Kitabi Seminary and St Joseph’s Vocational School, remained among the top schools in Uganda under his leadership.
There will be a Requiem Mass at St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart Cathedral Rubaga Kampala on Friday, 21st July 2023 starting at 10:00am.
Burial will take place on Sunday, 23rd July 2023 at Our Lady of Perpetual Health Cathedral Nyamitanga- Mbarara starting with Requiem Mass at 11:00am.
Informed are; H.E the President of Republic of Uganda, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, The Papal Nuncio to Uganda, The Uganda Episcopal Conference, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, Clergy, Religious and all people of God, Relatives, Friends and In-laws.
MAY THE SOUL OF ARCHBISHOP PAUL BAKYENGA REST IN ETERNAL PEACE.