Archbishop Jonah Lwanga dies at 76

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He spoke about democracy, constitutionalism and human rights

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Since the September 5 death of Archbishop Jonah Lwanga in Athens, Greece, the spiritual leader of more than 500,000 Ugandan Greek Orthodox Christians, tributes have been pouring in.

“It is truly sad and a great loss for all of us who have had contact with him. May his soul rest in peace and his memory be eternal,” said Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi, who is now the guardian of the Ugandan Orthodox Church, as he led the trisagion for the fallen Archbishop on September 10.

Charles Peter Mayiga, Katikkiro of Buganda, says Lwanga was a champion of human rights, rule of law, development and Ugandan unity. He left the legacy of an inspiring religious leader, Mayiga said.

Under Archbishop Lwanga, the Greek Orthodox Church in Uganda has grown exponentially. Throughout his leadership, Lwanga sought to address issues of spiritual growth as well as the social development of Ugandans; especially women and their children. He also fought against poverty, hunger and illiteracy.

The clergy of the Orthodox Church now consists of around 80 priests, 105 Orthodox communities, schools and a hospital. He boasts of a strong union of Orthodox mothers.

To celebrate Lwanga’s achievements, the Metropolitan was elevated on October 27, 2017 to the rank of Elder (Geronta / Yeronda) by the Holy Synod of Alexandria. This was a worthy achievement for Lwanga who grew up surrounded by the missionary work of Ugandan Orthodox pioneers.

He was born on July 18, 1945 to George William Kayonjo and Keziah Nabitaka in Ddegeya, in what is now Luweero district, just a year before Orthodox Christianity was recognized by the British colonial government.

The religion had been established in the early 1900s by Lwanga’s grandfather, Obadiah Basajjakitalo alongside Ruben Spartas Mukasa. In 1952, Lwanga began his university career in Bulemezi until the end of his secondary studies in 1964.

He left the same year for Crete, Greece, to do his ecclesiastical studies until 1968, according to his biography on the Ugandan Orthodox Christianity website. After graduating from the Ecclesiastical School, he continued his studies at the University of Athens, obtaining in 1973 a degree in philosophy.

Lwanga remained at the University of Athens until 1978, this time obtaining a degree in theology. In 1979 he returned to Uganda, serving as secretary of the Ugandan mission under Archbishop Frumentios until May 1, 1981, when he was ordained a diaconate.

In October 1981, the Bishop of Androusa (1972-1991), His Beatitude, Anastasios, arrived in Kenya to become Vicar for East Africa, following the death of Bishop Frumentios.

His Beatitude ordained Deacon Jonah Lwanga to the Holy Priesthood in 1982. In the same year, as a professor of theology, he was sent to the ecclesiastical school of Makarios III in Riruta, Nairobi, which had been inaugurated the year former.

It was also the same year that Lwanga was elevated to the rank of Archimandrite and was sent to serve as Vicar Bishop in Bukoba, Tanzania. He remained there for 10 years until he was elected by the Holy Synod as Metropolitan of Kampala and all of Uganda.

In 2019, Lwanga proudly noted that his church in Central Africa, under the aegis of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria, celebrated a century of important work in the country.

“We are celebrating the centenary of Greek Orthodoxy in Uganda. Starting in 1919 and with God’s help, we managed to convince many ethnic Ugandans that there is a different faith called Orthodoxy, ”the Metropolitan recounted in a 2019 documentary.

Many who knew him praise the head of the Ugandan Orthodox Church for speaking out about democracy, constitutionalism, human rights violations and other social ills that continue to plague society.

Even when President Yoweri Museveni has in the past ordered major religious leaders to focus on spiritual matters, Archbishop Lwanga has remained engaged, often speaking candidly on issues affecting ordinary Ugandans.

Some members of the government even accused him of belonging to the opposition and of being an enemy of the government of the National Resistance Movement (NRM). But Lwanga remained determined.

“The job to show them where to go is ours, it’s not his (President Museveni) and it’s the only truth that can set us free,” Lwanga said in one of his speeches. “Politicians around the world think that everything is theirs and yet they live off ordinary people’s taxes. They forget that they are our servants.


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