Reviews & Profiles
Kanyike: A humble servant of God who speaks his mind
Posted Monday, March 18 2013 at 02:00
As a young boy, he was impressed about the parish priest riding around the village on a motorcycle. Years later, he realised that priesthood was a calling to serve.
The church has always extolled patience, endurance and perseverance. Even when faced with the harshest of conditions, the clergy were expected to live humble, unassuming simple lives. Today’s religious leaders have, however, broken with the norm; they drive sleek cars, live in mansions in posh suburbs, and sport fancy suits.
Fr Lawrence Kanyike, the chaplain of St Augustine, Makerere University, has steered past the inevitable temptations, to live the simple life of a church leader.
Joining Makerere in 1984, after stints at Gaba and Namilyango seminaries, he has witnessed the university in its heyday as the “Harvard of Africa”, endured the turbulent years as students abandoned the classroom to join the Luweero War in the 1980s, its free-fall in the late 90s, and its current stumbling towards near revival.
Born 63 years ago, on February 25, in Katende, Luvumba, Mpigi District to John Ddamba and Maria Kevina Namanda, he describes his childhood as “difficult.”
With a large peasant household of 15 children—seven have since passed on—his father and mother juggled petty businesses like charcoal burning and farming to fend for the family.
Siblings had to attend Mass in shifts to make up for the little clothes at home while the mother had to do with one gomesi. As a young boy, he was both inspired and awed by a priest who crisscrossed his village on a motorcycle. He set out to follow the same path but would later realise that priesthood is more than riding a motorcycle, it is about caring for people.”
Witty and friendly
Fr Kanyike, resilience well etched on his face, welcomes me with a firm handshake. He is donning a black shirt with an untied priest collar and tightly tucked in a trouser held with a leather belt, arms stretched on a table to reveal his sole accessory; a wrist watch. His office is what, in an ideal situation, would be expected from a churchman; modest, neat, well-arranged but elegant.
Having suffered a stroke in 2008 that affected his mouth musles, his speech is slurred. He has since resorted to exercises to regain fitness. But the wit and friendly banter that punctuate his remarks make up for the incoherence. University students are so fond of him; they bump into his office, without the hassle and protocol of knocking, instantly starting off chats.
“The problem with the youth of today is that they engage in behaviours they do not know. You find them kissing but they do not know why people in the western world kiss.
While kissing, they hide meaning that they know that what they are doing is wrong,” Fr Kanyike says, making imitations to drive home his point.
He tells me of how he is taking campusers on a picnic, using such words like “con” (slang for dating) to illustrate his point. “University students think alike and have common problems concerning relationships. When they get to 20 years, they become inquisitive, independent thinkers who need a lot of counselling. You must show them that you are not rushing and have time for them,” Fr Kanyike says.
With a career spanning over 30 years, he proudly says that “I would choose it again.”
As we go on and on, we inevitably get to the once-in–a-lifetime news that had recently baffled all and sundry: the resignation of the Pope. “It was a shock because we believe that the Pope is supposed to serve forever. It took courage and clear consideration for him to come out and say that his health could not enable him perform his duties better,” he observes. The resignation of the Pope, says Fr Kanyike, ought to be emulated by other leaders.
“Political leaders must take leadership as a service,” he says with more severe tone, delving into a theme. “Life was much better until Obote stormed the Kabaka’s palace and introduced the gun in our politics but everything the present leadership has done is mediocre. Obote constructed better roads, hospitals and schools but the current leadership has led the facilities into shambles,”he opines, singling out the one of the regime’s bragging card, the Universal Primary Education.
“I call it Universal Poison Education because I do not see any quality that it produces,” he charges. Perhaps, wary of the uneasy relationship that exists between the church and the state world over, he is quick to remind me that these are his “personal views”.
He continues: “Let them not deceive you…for 30 years, we have been under the same system and if there is no change, Uganda will never be the same again. Things have gone wrong and it is getting worse. The 30 years have contributed to the problem of society and particularly young people losing conscience,”
His sharp tongue does not spare the church, either. He accuses it of losing focus. The church has failed to analyse the problems of the current generation and present the gospel in a responsive way. “Many people have broken off and are looking for a problem-solving God which is difficult because they will not find one. The gospel is not presented in a way that responds to the problems of today,” he notes.