Many good things have been spoken of Orthodox Archbishop Jonah Lwanga, since his passing on in Greece on September 5. The prelate of Namungoona has generally been admired for his piety and passion for national unity, peace, justice, human rights, good governance and equitable development.
However, that was not all about Lwanga.
The prelate is said to have lived a monastic life of self-denial. He did not own any personal property, bank account, car or house.
Lwanga had two pairs of shoes, a few clothes and a few cassocks. If people donated to him some money, he would give it to the needy. If politicians brought money to his Cathedral during election period, he would reject it.
Lwanga’s incredible life of strict asceticism was revealed by his brother, Nathan Kayonjo, during his requiem mass at St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral, Namungoona, in Rubaga Division, Kampala on Saturday.
“One thing about Jonah Lwanga, which makes us, the family members, to walk with our heads high, is his Christ-like priestly, episcopal ministry. He imitated Jesus Christ, who relinquished all his heavenly honour and power, came down to earth, lived with human beings, shared their humanity and even suffered hunger, yet he was the owner of the universe,” Kayonjo said.
“We, the family members, know not of any house, or car, that Jonah Lwanga owned as a person. He has always used one office vehicle, which he also doesn’t replace, until it gets into a dangerous mechanical condition,” he added.
Kayonjo also spoke about Lwanga’s sensitivity to the biblical virtue of forgiveness.
“Last year, he fell sick and was hospitalised in Nairobi. When he was returning to Uganda after being discharged, he received a bad text message on his phone; somebody was threatening to harm him! When he showed us that message, we got concerned and took action. Somehow, we managed to get the name of the person who had sent the message and we took the matter to Police. But when we went to him to brief him about our progress, he just laughed and said: ‘Why do you trouble yourself over something that is nothing? Just forget about that person…. Just go and serve God’. In other words, he was telling us to forgive that person because he didn’t know what he was doing,” Kayonjo said.
Kayonjo’s testimony was confirmed in even clearer terms by legislator Theodore Ssekikubo, a member of the Namungoona Orthodox community.
“Metropolitan Lwanga exercised prophetic leadership. He castigated selfishness. He abhorred corruption. We, the Orthodox Christians, who worship from this Cathedral know well how he chased away the politics of envelopes, not because he didn’t want the money, but because he didn’t want the spirit in which the envelopes were being donated. Like many other religious leaders, the Government gave him a vehicle, a Mitsubishi Pajero, but he rejected it. He has been using his Land Cruiser, which he bought in 2003. He was a satisfied man,” Ssekikubo said.
Former Uganda People’s Congress President Ambassador Olara Otunnu also eulogised Lwanga
“Before us here lies a great man, a great leader. I came to be Metropolitan Lwanga’s admirer because of his qualities of honesty, integrity and conviction. He was a man of conviction and he had the urge to express the conviction,” Otunnu said.
“He was a person of high position, but he remained down-to-earth. Lwanga loved Uganda and Ugandans. He was always prepared to express the truth. He was a spiritual gift. In this country and the world, the qualities that Lwanga had are rare,” Otunnu added.
Others who eulogised Metropolitan Lwanga included Kalangala District Woman MP Hellen Nakimuli, Orthodox Bishop of Burundi Innocentius Byakatonda (in absentia), head of the Uganda Orthodox Medical Bureau Ssande Binaisa and Chief of the Buganda sub-county of Mengo Kibuga Samuel Mukasa.
The requiem mass was presided over by caretaker archbishop, the Cypriot Metropolitan of Nairobi and all Kenya, Makarios Andreas Tillyrides, who also paid tribute to Lwanga for his ecclesial devotion and visionary episcopate.
ORTHODOX CHURCH IN UGANDA
In 1929, Uganda was the fi rst country south of the Sahara where the Orthodox faith started.
The Government recognised the Orthodox faith in 1946.
The Orthodox faith in Uganda consists of two administrative structures; the Holy Metropolis of Kampala and all Uganda that was under Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga and the Holy Diocese of Gulu and Eastern
Uganda headed by Bishop Silvester Kisitu. The number of Orthodox Church followers in Uganda is estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000.