"Byabazaire once tore his new towel into two and gave the other half to his student"
By Pascal Kwesiga
He was from a rich family. He, therefore, lacked nothing. His father was a teacher, sub-county chief and a chief justice of Bunyoro Kitara kingdom.
Naturally, he would have inherited the family wealth and built upon it, but at the time of his death, Bishop Deogratius Byabazaire Abwooli, had no material possessions worth writing home about. He had given up everything to follow Jesus.
Byabazaire passed on last Saturday at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. He had, just hours before, returned from India where medics discharged him on Friday after showing significant improvement in his health.
Byabazaire was 72 years and had been battling hydrocephalus (cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain), a mild stroke and diabetes since 2009. At the time he was the Bishop of Hoima Catholic Diocese.
Byabazaire’s father, an ex-seminarian, always wished that one of his 14 children would join a religious order. It is said that at the age of four, Byabazaire chopped up ripe bananas and acting as a priest, lined up his siblings and gave them “holy communion”.
His father then encouraged him to join the seminary.
Man of devotion
From the time he was ordained priest on August 9, 1969, Byabazaire devoted all his time to his calling, according to his elder brother, Henry Kajura, first deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Service.
Kajura says Byabazaire spent all his time visiting schools, churches and hospitals. true
“He never told me whenever he came to Kampala. I would only be told he had been around.”
Kajura says: “We gave him time because we did not want to fail him in his mission.”
According to Kajura, when a family member sought financial assistance from Byabazaire [pictured right as a seminarian in the 1970s], he would tell them: “I thought you had brought part of your wealth to the poor.”
“Byabazaire said the only thing he could do for us was to baptise our children and preside over our weddings and he did just that.”
Kajura adds that although bishops are entitled to a one-month leave in a year under canon law, Byabazaire did not take leave since he was ordained bishop of Hoima Catholic diocese in 1991.
Kajura recalls an incident during the silver jubilee celebrations at Nyamigisa Church in Masindi when Christians collected money for Byabazaire a few years ago, but he gave it to the headmistress of Nyamigisa Secondary School.
Kajura explains that since Byabazaire did not keep money or gifts he received, when he started writing his will, he found out that he only had a box of text books as his property. He had acquired the books from the seminaries where he taught.
“Byabazaire willed the books to universities and seminaries,” Kajura says.
At the time of his death, Kajura says Byabazaire was paying school fees for over 300 students in higher institutions of learning. “We should join hands and see them through their studies,” Kajura adds.
Lenard Muganwa, a brother of the deceased, says at the time Byabazaire was taken ill, he was sponsoring half of the students at St. Andrew Kaahwa’s College, a Catholic-founded secondary school near Bujumbura Cathedral.
Several bishops attended Byabazaire's funeral service at Rubaga Cathedral. PHOTO/Francis Emorut
Family, friends, colleagues and faithful attended Tuesday's funeral service. PHOTO/Francis Emorut
The nephew of the fallen clergyman, Edgar Muganwa comforts his sister Veronica Ssentongo. PHOTO/Francis Emorut
Victor Kajura, Byabazaire’s nephew, says a student of his uncle once told him (Byabazaire) he had everything he wanted to be in school apart from a towel. “He tore his new towel into two and gave the other half to the student.”
Ernest Kiiza, the Bunyoro affairs minister, describes Byabazaire as a bishop of the poor, who transformed the lives of many people in Bunyoro. “He lived for the poor and he was dedicated to his mission. He transformed the diocese and that is why he will be missed.”
What the clergy say
According to Msgr Mathias Nyakatura, the vicar general of Hoima Catholic diocese, Byabazaire’s generosity did not begin when he was ordained a priest. He studied with Byabazaire in Rome.
“Byabazaire was from a rich family and he had everything a student needed, but he gave all his personal effects and money to us,” Nyakatura says.
Having worked under him for over 20 years, Nyakatura says Byabazaire had never gone back to his ancestral home.
The Hoima Catholic pastoral coordinator, Fr. Robert Mugisa, says Byabazaire’s love for education was outstanding.
“I cannot count the number of students he sponsored in schools. Many of them have become priests and nuns,” he adds.
Mugisa says Byabazaire would spend half of his time at events he was invited to encouraging parents and children to focus on education.
“He supported women organisations, built schools and churches and lobbied for us to have Radio Maria to promote evangelisation,” he says.
Emmanuel cardinal Wamala says Byabazaire had a profound zeal for education. “He was passionate about education, especially girl-child education,” he says.
The archbishop of Kampala, Dr. Cyprian Lwanga, says: “We have lost a gallant son of Uganda, a very good bishop and a successor of the apostles.”
Lwanga adds: “Byabazaire had a large heart in which all of us fitted, he lived for his flock and we thank God for the life He gave him. Byabazaire gave himself entirely and we shall miss his humble voice and smile that greeted whoever met him.”
Byabazaire, Lwanga says, will be remembered for his unwavering love for education, poverty alleviation efforts and care for the marginalised.
“After expanding the church and building schools, Byabazaire was planning a university for Bunyoro before he fell sick,” Lwanga adds.
Bishop Lambert Bainomugisha says: “Byabazaire had two aspects that distinguished his service; service to God and service to humanity. Every time I met him, he talked about the mission. He has died at the altar of God and humanity. His shoes are too big to fit in.”
Bainomugisha was deployed by Pope Benedict XVI to Hoima Catholic diocese from Mbarara archdiocese in 2009 when Byabazaire’s health deteriorated.
BACK IN THE DAY: Byabazaire (centre) serving food at a function in Hoima
Byabazaire will be laid to rest today (Thursday) next to Bujumbura Cathedral in Hoima town. “He will be buried in a 30-meter long grave that will accommodate 10 bishops in a period of 100 years,” says Rev. Fr. Robert Matovu from the diocese’s construction department.
Byabazaire attended events organised by Anglicans
The wife of the bishop of Bunyoro Kitara diocese, Peace Kyamanywa, describes Byabazaire as a uniting factor.
“He was a Catholic bishop, but he attended all events organised by Anglicans. He would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. We shall miss him a lot and may God rest his soul in eternal peace,” she says.
The Bunyoro Kitara diocesan secretary, Rev Can. Sam Kahuma, says Byabazaire was humble, selfless and dedicated to his calling.
“We dealt with him on a number of occasions as the Anglican Church and he was humble,” he explains
Shem Byakagaba, a lawyer, says Byabazaire was the brain behind a forum of Christians living outside Hoima diocese. “He was exemplary. We used to go to him for advice as leaders,” he says.
Lawrence Bategeka, a director of Mandela Secondary School in Hoima, says Byabazaire had been working with Bunyoro Kitara Diocese Bishop Nathan Kyamanywa to start a university in Bunyoro. “Unfortunately that project did not go far when he fell sick.”
- Born on October 9, 1941 to Lawrence and Veronica Muganwa in Karujubu village, Masindi district.
- A sixth born in a family of 14 children, Byabazaire attended St. Aloysius Primary School in Hoima town, Kitabi Seminary Mbarara before joining Katigondo Major Seminary in Masaka for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
- He went to Urubania University in Rome, Italy, for a master’s degree in theology. He obtained a PhD in church history and community development from Germany in 1978. He later studied at the University of London and Sorbon University, France.
- Ordained priest at Bujumbura Cathedral, Hoima, August 9, 1969.
- Consecrated bishop in 1990.
- Installed as bishop of Hoima Catholic diocese on March 9, 1991.
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The bishop who shepherded the poor