Sunday July 29 2012

A day with the man of God

Bishop Stanley Ntagali and his daughter Judith Magezi.

Bishop Stanley Ntagali and his daughter Judith Magezi. Photos by Francis Mugerwa. 

By Francis Mugerwa

When I arrived Archbishop of Uganda elect, Stanley Ntagali’s residence in Masindi municipality, located about a kilometre along the Masindi-Hoima Road, I was welcomed by a policeman estimated to be in his 20s. The residential house which has a spacious –well paved compound is surrounded by flowers and some gardens. He ushered me to a sitting room, where Bishop Ntagali was busy on a laptop, as some of his family members read newspapers.

“You are most welcome Francis. Nice to see you. I have been expecting you,” he said wearing a smile as he extended his hand for a handshake. I gladly shoke his hand. He offered me a seat next to where he was seated, signed off his email and gave me his attention. I introduced the purpose of my visit and he gave ago ahead. I later learnt from him, that reading and meeting people are part of his day-today activities.

Early start
Bishop Ntagali starts the day’s activities at 5am by leading family prayers. He is at his office by 8.30am where he leads diocesan staff prayers before attending to any other official duties. He is in office from Tuesday to Thursday, and on Friday, he begins pastoral outreaches in parishes and churches where he is currently confirming children, wedding couples and bidding farewell to Christians of the diocese before he assumes the office of the Archbishop in December this year. Although he set aside Monday as a day of rest, he hardly does now because people keep flocking his home, seeking for his attention.

Bishop Ntagali reveals that he hails from a humble back ground and his journey to becoming Uganda’s 8th Archbishop has been long and bumpy, punctuated by tension. “I wasn’t surprised (by the election as Archbishop), but was humbled because I have always been called to tough assignments,” he said.

With a seemingly sad expression on his face, he reveals that he comes from a simple background but he has struggled to reach where he is today. One of his principles in life is not to fear challenges but he rather confronts them with a target of turning them into opportunities.

Born in Ndorwa County in Kabale District in 1955, Ntagali shifted with his family to Wambabya Parish in Kizirifumbi sub-county in Hoima District when he was 16 years old. He settled in a largely peasanty-farming community and to date has several friends and associates there. He is a former a teacher in Wambabya Primary School in Hoima District. He says teaching gave him opportunity to pass on knowledge to pupils. “I naturally love teaching and preaching. That is why as early as 19 years, I got saved and gave my life to Jesus Christ,” he says.

During his teenage life, he says he realised the need to be have humility, get focused and avoid being detracted by peer groups. Ntagali settled in a region which has land and ethnic tensions which have often turned bloody.

Tough times
It is of no surprise that although he empathises reconciliation, harmony and dialogue, he came face- to- face with the ethnic tensions when he became Bishop of Masindi Kitara Diocese. Ntagali who was consecrated Bishop on December 19, 2004 says one of the most challenging moments in his life was the resistance he faced when he was called to lead Masindi-Kitara Diocese on grounds that he is not a native of Bunyoro.

A cross section of people in Bunyoro protested Ntagali’s appointment to head Masindi Kitara Diocese which was curved out of the present day Bunyoro Kitara Diocese. Several Christians however revealed that despite protests against him, Ntagali would appear in public calm and preach reconciliation.

“Peace to you all my brothers and sisters. We need to support and love each other,” he said in one of his sermons to Christians at St. Mathew’s Cathedral. Ntagali hopes to use his personal experience to reach out to communities ravaged by ethnic tensions and tribalism.

Secrets to success
“When a person confronts me, I do not retaliate. I begin working on how I can win back that person. When we pursue that approach, we experience love, unity, reconciliation and forgiveness,” he says as he occasionally checks on his watch.

In his home, visitors keep coming. He takes time to welcome them and say hello to them. He keeps introducing me to his guests and requests them to permit him wind up the interview before he attends to their concerns. Peter Mugisa, one of them says he keeps consulting the Bishop on a wide range of issues including marriage and family management.

In parts of Uganda where there are ethnic differences, Bishop Ntagali said he will preach love and unity as development knows no ethnicity. His pursuit of peace seems to be yielding fruits because even those who resisted his election as the Masindi Kitara Bishop have welcomed his elevation to .head of the church of Uganda.

Besides the resistance he faced when he became Bishop of Masindi-Kitara diocese, he says his missionary work in Karamoja was a tough calling. He was a chaplain of a hospital and would preach to soldiers and communities on the Uganda-Kenya border, many of whom did not know much about him prior to his deployment. He says he initially struggled to communicate in Swahili, the language which was widely spoken in the area.

“I had to spare time to learn it,” he says. He went for the Karamoja assignment when he was still a bachelor, but one of his best moments was when he married his wife Beatrice, in January, 1978 and had a honeymoon in Moroto District. The couple has five children.

He says one of his principles in life is to think critically whenever he is confronted with challenges. “I don’t rush. Some people call me a man of few words. God gave me a gift of humility. I have a soft heart but with a tough mind,” Ntagali says.

Family life
He revealed that his wife Beatrice, whom he met while a youth leader in Bunyoro Kitara diocese, has been an inspiration to him. “She is a suitable partner. She understood my calling and has been very supportive in my work. She has also organised the family well,” he says.

His wife briefly listened to the interview before retreating in the kitchen to prepare lunch. Later, she stood beside her husband as they bid farewell to me after the interview. One of the children, Judith Magezi, a teacher, who was at home said her parents keep reminding her about the need to be a role model in society.

Priorities as Archbishop
He revealed that he is set to assume office from Arch bishop Orombi, whom he describes as a great man, and will draw a lot of inspiration and experience from him. “Completing the Church House will be my priority. This is a great project which will generate money for the church and a step towards making a self-sustaining province,” Ntagali who speaks firmly, says. He has a vision of initiating new projects in the Church of Uganda and accomplishing the existing ones with a target of making the church self-sustaining.

As a preacher, he wants to give hope to the people of Uganda, extend the gospel to the youth and give them key roles in church in order to address their needs which at times tempt them to join Pentecostal churches and other religious denominations.

Bishop Ntagali has also promised to be outspoken against social injustices such as corruption and tribalism.
“I will not condone social evils although I will not get mixed up with politics. I will help people to focus on God. When we are God-fearing people we can be a God fearing nation” he said. He believes that corruption and bad governance are symptoms that need people to change their hearts, get transformation and become developmental politicians, civil servants and businessmen and women.

On the state-church relations, he says both the church and the state serve the same people and therefore promised to compliment efforts of government and leadership in serving the people and improving their welfare.

As a clergy he hopes to prioritise evangelisation to address social issues and help people focus on God.
“I will be concerned about the welfare of the people of Uganda. I will work towards transparent and accountable leadership. We, the church leaders shouldn’t be attacking politicians when we are not having our house clean,” he said. As we wind up the interview, he gives me a quote for reflection, given to him by one of his primary teacher. “Politeness costs nothing, but it oils the wheels of life”.