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Fr. Ssekalegga becomes Monsignor at 100

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th January 2010 03:00 AM

Clad in white robes and gigantic spectacles, an elderly man leans heavily on his silver metallic stick and limps forward two steps before he tires. A young girl runs to him and gives him a gift.

Clad in white robes and gigantic spectacles, an elderly man leans heavily on his silver metallic stick and limps forward two steps before he tires. A young girl runs to him and gives him a gift.

By Frederick Womakuyu and Juliet Lukwago

Clad in white robes and gigantic spectacles, an elderly man leans heavily on his silver metallic stick and limps forward two steps before he tires. A young girl runs to him and gives him a gift.

He receives it with an infectious smile, accompanied by “thank you very much.”

Few people nowadays clock past a century and very few still are honoured alive. However, Fr. Raphael Ssekalegga Kiwuuta of Kampala Archdiocese, is different.

By his own reckoning, he is 100 years old and he has served as a priest for 69 years. This makes him not only one of the oldest priests in Uganda, but also a disciplined and dedicated clergymen.

Ssekalegga becomes Monsignor
Pope Benedict XVI has named Ssekalegga Monsignor for his long service in the Catholic church in Uganda.

Monsignor is a title bestowed on a priest because of his prominence or years of faithful and esteemed service in the diocese.

In a function that took place in December 2009 at Rubaga Cathedral during the Annual Priest Day celebrations, the Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, praised Ssekalegga for guiding God’s flock in the right direction.

“He is 100 years now and has spent 69 years in priesthood. As priests, we should learn from him and promote justice and priesthood. Let us be happy in our priesthood because it is God’s calling,” Lwanga said.

His service and Journey
Records at Rubaga Cathedral reveal that Ssekalegga was first appointed as curate priest (assistant parish priest) at Mulajje Parish in Luweero diocese in 1941, immediately after leaving Rubaga Cathedral where he had trained as a priest.

Because of the few clergymen the diocese had at the time, Ssekalegga served as a curate priest at the two parishes of Vvumba in Kiboga district and Nandere in Luweero district in 1947 before he returned to Mulajje Parish.

Ssekalegga built the three parishes from scratch — increasing the congregation, baptising more Christians and encouraging parents to take their children to school.

Because of his good performance, the bishop then appointed him as a parish priest for Naluggi Parish where he served for seven years (the current day Kiyinda in Mityana diocese).

At Naluggi, Ssekalegga again proved his worth by attracting and retaining many Christians in the parish which led to its growth as a fully fledged diocese today.

In 1956, the bishop transferred Ssekalegga to Katende Parish in Mpigi district, where he served for two years.

But before he could settle permanently, the bishop supported him to found a new parish at Bukalammuli along Hoima Road in Kiboga district in 1958.

“The diocese served people who used to walk for 30 miles from Naddangira and Kiyinda-Mityana. During the construction, I stayed and interacted with Christian families that were neighbouring the parish. They were good people but at times, I had to be very strict so that they could do something. But my stay was short,” Ssekalegga recalls.

In 1959, Ssekalegga was transferred to Naddangira Parish to build a new Christian base. He attracted many Christians and expanded the parish but the bishop was not done with him.

“In 1961, I was transferred to Kisubi Seminary as spiritual director for six years. I was in charge of counselling students and teaching them the word of God,” he says.

He built a base of committed young Christians — with an enthusiasm of joining priesthood by encouraging them to join God’s work. It is because of his work that many young people became priests.

But his stay at Kisubi was shortlived. “I was appointed parish priest at Gayaza Parish from 1967 to 1973. That is when I constructed Kankobe Parish, a place where I used to spend most of my time with the congregation — encouraging people to become Christians,” Ssekalegga reveals.

He says he took advantage of his work to learn new languages.

“I know Rutoro, Rukiga, Runyoro, Ruyankole and Luganda,” he says. “During my free time, I visited my flock and talked to them. It was a time to know their concerns and worries, but also find solutions.”

Ssekalegga left Kankobe Parish in 1984 and was again appointed curate father for Gayaza Parish till 1993.

“I saw the congregation grow in hundreds of thousands. More people unlike in the 1950s or 60s and 70s, embraced Christianity,” Ssekalegga says.

In 1994, Ssekalegga retired from serving as an active priest.

“I went to Archbishop Emmanuel Wamala’s place to rest. I am taking sick leave there. However, regardless of my age and sickness, I participate in mass with colleagues,” the frail Ssekalegga says.

He has become a household name among the young and old. Those close to him say he is entertaining.

Moses Kiwanuka, a priest who has worked with the diocese for over 20 years, knows Ssekalegga as a humble, honest and dedicated servant of God.

“He has made us what we are today. He encouraged me to become a priest and I do not regret it. He guided us on what is right and what God requires of us,” Kiwanuka says.

A celebrated priest
It is no wonder that after each mass and other important events organised at the church, the congregation always crowds around him.

“Father Ssekalegga is very intelligent and his performance is way above average,” explains Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga. “We praise God for his life. And we also pray God continues keeping and helping him. Those who have worked with him baptised him ‘the hard working man,’ says priest Charles Lwanga Kasozi, who has worked with him for many years.

At Rubaga, Fr. Ssekalegga is well known for his story telling. He cannot stop amusing colleagues and strangers with the old stories, trials and tribulations he went through to date.

A widely travelled man within Uganda, Ssekalegga, a Muganda of Mbogo clan was born in Bunyoro in Buyaga County — present day Hoima, immediately after his father, a chief of the Kabaka of Buganda was transferred from Buganda to head the disputed county.

Earlier background
The son of the late Chief Aleni Kaddu Nabwana and Sarah Nambooze, Ssekalegga was born on August 30, 1909 and was given the pet name Akiki by their Banyoro hosts.

As a young man, Ssekalegga joined Busuubizi Parish, the current day Kiyinda-Mityana Parish in 1921 with a dream of becoming a priest.

He trained at Busuubizi Primary School and later joined Bukalasa Minor Seminary for six years, before enrolling at Katigondo Major Seminary for Theology in 1930, where he studied for seven years.

He went on to pastor at Kyamaganda Parish in Masaka district, where he was appointed a sub-deacon.

In 1940, he was ordained a priest at Rubaga Cathedral.

The fourth of six children, Monsignor Ssekalegga is the only surviving member of their large family. Although he is remorse about this demise, Ssekalegga says whatever happens, happens at the time God chooses.

“It is God’s blessing that I am still alive,” he says. “I thank God because I have lived to see my nephews and nieces, some of whom have joined religious institutions.

Ssekalegga’s niece, Sr. Ruth Muzeeyi is at Good Samaritans Convent Nalukolongo, Kampala and the nephew, Fr. Jacinto Kibuuka, is assistant parish priest of Masulita Parish in Wakiso district.

“I advise the youth to join religious institutions and serve God. He will help them. I call on parents to send their children to serve God — they will not be the same,” he says.

Fr. Ssekalegga becomes Monsignor at 100

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