By Benedict Okethwengu
NEBBI - Finally, after three days of mourning, Rev Fr Jovenile Ayelangom and Rev Fr Innocent Ngabirombo, who died in a road accident at Corner Aboke on Oyam-Lira Highway in Kole district on Tuesday were given a dignified send-off.
The caskets containing the remains of the two priests were lowered in their respective graves at 4:00pm local time (EAT) at the diocesan cemetery behind Nebbi cathedral on Friday.
The funeral procession to their final resting place was led by several priests and sisters holding wreaths as they sang the Vatican and Caritas anthems respectively.
The funeral ground was blanketed with seasonal dust on a hot day braved by mourners who gathered for the burial at Nebbi Cathedral playground.
Mourners sang and danced alongside the choir from inside their tents as they bid farewell to the priests.
The burial mass for the fallen clergymen started about an hour behind schedule with the Cathedral filled to capacity, forcing hundreds to follow proceedings from outside.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu Archdiocese presided over the funeral Mass.
Other Bishops in attendance were Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua diocese, Joesph Franzelli of Lira, Lino Sanctus, Wanok and Bishop Emeritus Martin Luluga, all of Nebbi diocese.
Richard Todwong, the minister without portfolio, represented the government at the burial, with notable government officials like Fred Jachan Omach, the state minster for finance, and a host of MPs from West Nile.
Odama, in his sermon, said the death of the two priests took them by surprise and shock, adding that it could have been worse for those who were at the scene.
Sisters, carrying wreaths, lead a funeral procession. PHOTO/Benedict Okethwengu
Minister Richard Todwong (L) and State minister Fred Omach, with his wife, attended the burial. PHOTO/Benedict Okethwengu
He re-echoed the need for prayers that must be punctuated with fasting to enable people understand the rampant incidents of accidents claiming lives of people.
Earlier, the vicar general of Nebbi diocese, Msgr Lino Opio, who spoke on behalf of the diocesan priests, called for fasting and prayers across all the parishes to rebuke the work of satan causing accidents to people in the district.
Odama, however, noted that people should stop thinking that the priests were killed as result of witchcraft, adding that such beliefs are likely to fuel violence and hatred within the diocese.
“The departure of our priests affects us; shed tears, lament, beat your chest and bury them with due respect and
ceremonies, but avoid evil talk," he said.
"Let’s not attribute their death to witchcraft, it’s goba (a lie). Bishops, priests and sisters are not bewitched."
The funeral Mass with close to 10,000 mourners was an occasion of sublime grace, punctuated with moments of raw emotion.
Hellion Chanikare, National programme coordinators Caritas where Fr Ayelengo worked as director of Nebbi, described him as a person with professional attributes and skills that has shaped the lives of the vulnerable.
“As Caritas staff lying here, amidst us, we see a mind who thought of strategies of ameliorating the face of poverty especially among the poorest of the poor,” she said.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama presided over the funeral service. PHOTO/Benedict Okethwengu
Mourners collected at the gravesites of the two fallen priests. PHOTO/Benedict Okethwengu
Bishop Lino said with the death of the two priests, the diocese has made a big"irreplaceable" loss.
“My children go in peace you have done a great job, but your death is a big loss to Nebbi diocese because I know you are irreplaceable,” he said.
He appealed to the Christians to pray for the bereaved family and the diocese to enable parents to send their children to seminaries.
Minister Todwong told mourners that government was saddened by the death of the two priests.
He mentioned that as government, they equally need the religious leaders because they play a key role in developing the country.
The minister without portfolio said they will ensure that the projects especially in HIV/AIDS, youths and the women which were being implemented by the fallen priests move on successfully.
“We shall ensure that we liase with the diocese to see that the projects undertaken by the fallen priests go on even after their death,” he said
Titi Orochi, Fr Ayelamgo’s mother and Mary Fuaciba, Fr Innocent’s mother spoke passionately about their sons, describing them as great friends who resisted temptations to deny them their calling.
“I wanted to stop him from joining the seminary because he was the first born but he insisted. To me, Jovenile was called to be a priest and must say I am happy he is with the lord,” Titi said of her son.
On her part, Fuaciba said her son’s journey into priesthood was prophesied by his uncle, Rev Fr Joseph Oyulu, who died in 1994 after being burned by gas.
“Fr Oyulu told me at his death that God will give me a son that will replace him and Innocent was his replacement now he is also gone, all I need from you is prayers,” she recounted.
Fr. Ayelango was the director of Caritas, Nebbi and Curate for Ulepi parish. He was also a lecturer at Uganda Christian University, Nebbi Campus.
Fr. Ngabirombo was at Marty’s University pursuing a degree in Educational Management.
Nebbi gives fallen priests dignified farewell