The morning of Saturday April 20, 1991, looked dull with dark clouds covering up the sky, thus denying city dwellers the usually sweet sun rays. While in Kampala work went on normally, at the adjacent hill of Rubaga it was the continuous tolling of the Cathedral bells that seemed to worry residents.
Rumours from the “holy” hill (formerly the exact location of Buganda King Muteesa’s palace which he later donated to early Catholic missionaries) had a few days before indicated that the health of Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga then hospitalised in Cologne, Germany, suffering from cancer, had deteriorated.
So it was not a surprise when an hour later Radio Uganda (there were no other radio stations then) broke the sad news of the cardinal’s death. The news was met with shock from all corners of the country and from people of different beliefs and political ideologies the late had worked hard to unite. The cardinal’s body was flown back home and arrived at Entebbe International Airport on Friday, April 26, 1991, at 6.45am.
Thousands thronged Entebbe to witness the return of the fallen hero but this time with sullen faces unlike in 1976 where at the same place they cheered him on arrival from Rome where he had been elevated to a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
From the airport, the cardinal’s body went straight to the parliamentary building where Members of Parliament paid their respects and later at Rubaga Cathedral where members of the public paid their homage to the great friend and religious father. The body stayed there for four days before the burial on Monday April 29, 1991. In the cathedral, a mass was held every six hours and during which the viewing of the body had to stop.
During the four days, people of every age and beliefs joined the long queues that at times stretched as far as Kabuusu on Masaka Road on one front and Mengo, a kilometre away on the other side just to get a chance of viewing the body of their beloved hero. The burial took place at Bakateyamba Home of the elderly and disabled in Nalukolongo near Nateete though church tradition dictates that bishops are buried inside their cathedrals. The late cardinal humbled himself by making a will to be buried at the Bakateyamba Home which he himself found.
So much loved
People can never get tired of talking good of the late cardinal. Residents of Kampala still remember him for bravely confronting unruly security personnel during the regimes of Idi Amin and Obote II.
“Cardinal Nsubuga hosted and fed hundreds of people at the height of the 1979 and 1985 wars that ousted Idi Amin and Milton Obote regimes respectively,” recalls Kafumbe Hassan, a resident of Nabbingo near Kampala.
“We were so many Muslims there and were treated equally like Catholics. The cardinal offered us blankets and would personally visit us every morning to inquire about our plight.”
It was around 1981 when the late Andrew Kayiira’s Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) rebels stationed their heavy guns on top of Rubaga hill just in front of the cathedral from where they bombed Lubiri military barracks below.
Like wounded buffaloes and armed to teeth, the Obote soldiers later invaded the cathedral and rounded up people who had taken refuge inside. On learning about the situation, the cardinal, armed with just a walking stick, came and chased the soldiers away, ordering that they leave the innocent people alone and instead chase after the rebels.
According to Gilbert Kafumbe of Wakaliga, a Kampala suburb, many of those arrested were thus released though some were taken to an unknown destination and were never seen again. Up to this day, Mzee Kafumbe praises the late cardinal for this brave act.
Those who used to attend mass officiated by Cardinal Nsubuga still remember how in his homilies used to warn dictatorial regimes against oppressing wananchi.
“He would openly reprimand Idi Amin for his brutal ways. He would preach, saying he knew that the government’s intelligence people were at large and that he didn’t mind but instead advised them to go and tell their boss to style up and stop killing innocent people,” recalls Lawrence Masembe, a retired health worker in Ndeeba, Kampala.
The Rev Fr Charles Lwanga Ssengendo, the Parish Priest of Ggaba and Cardinal Nsubuga’s last private secretary, recalls many good moments with his former boss.
“He always stood for the truth and feared nothing when fighting for the oppressed. I particularly remember him for loving and taking care of the poor and disabled,” he says.
Fr Ssengendo will never forget the day they toured Karamoja sub-region and on return Cardinal Nsubuga picked a number of Karimojongs and brought them to live with him. He gave them Kiganda names from his Mmamba (lung fish) clan.
During the period Fr Ssengendo spent with the cardinal, they toured places such as Kigo and Luzira prisons where he took basic supplies, preached and consoled prisoners. They also visited the Mirema Refugee Camp in Mbarara and Kapeeka war zone at the peak of the NRM guerrilla war of the 80s. At Kyasira near Kisubi, the late cardinal started a home for reformed street children.
Fr Ssengendo remembers accompanying the cardinal to State House one day to console president Milton Obote after the death of David Oyite Ojok. He felt sorry but did not fear to tell Obote that despite his coming to console him, he should be aware that the people of Luweero were being killed in big numbers by government forces. He told Obote that it should stop and called upon the government to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The only political function Cardinal Nsubuga used to attend was the Independence Day celebrations and never the ones certain regimes marked celebrating coming to power – the likes of January 25 by Idi Amin or January 26 by the NRM. He believed those were not worth celebrating.
Fr Ssengendo remembers one day as they returned from abroad and on arrival at Entebbe, the cardinal gave boxes of new pairs of shoes to every airport worker. They couldn’t believe it and were left speechless.
Of the many qualities Fr Ssengendo claims to have inherited from his former boss, he mentions time keeping.
“He always kept time and made sure [he] arrives at functions at least five minutes to agreed time,” Fr Ssengendo says.
Above all, for his concern and love for the elderly and disabled, Cardinal Nsubuga went on to found the Bakateyamba’s Home for the disabled.
At the same time, he started a new nun’s congregation, the Good Samaritans Sisters, with the main aim of taking care of those rejected, the elderly and disabled from across the country.
Many Ugandans of other faith were some of his best friends, such as Dr Dunstan Nsubuga, the former Bishop of Namirembe, and Prince Badru Kakungulu of Kibuli. By the time of the cardinal’s death, Prince Kakungulu was bed ridden and passed on just days later. It is rumoured that the news of his friend (Nsubuga’s) death affected and shocked him badly.
Who can forget that late Cardinal Nsubuga was the main man behind the first papal visit to Africa? He went to the Vatican and requested Pope Paul VI to bless the mat bag he was using to fundraise for the construction of the Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo. The Pope blessed it and contributed something, even promising to come to Africa and bless the altar of the shrine. It was indeed his initiative and active participation in the arrangements and preparations that made the visit possible.
Cardinal Nsubuga, in addition worked hard to make Ugandans develop respect for the early Christian missionaries such as Fr Lourdel Mopeal (Mapeera) and Brother Amans. In 1974, Cardinal Nsubuga travelled to Zanzibar and Algiers and searched for and brought the remains of Bro Amans (Amansi) and Fr Barbot for burial here.
But who can dare write or talk about Cardinal Nsubuga without remembering his ecumenical spirit (Unification of Christians) both here and abroad. In this aspect he was treasured all over the world. Little wonder that in 1982, he was honoured and chosen among those that accompanied Pope John Paul II when he made that historical visit to the Anglican Church in England (Canterbury).
In 1984, the cardinal went on to invite the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, and history was made in Uganda on January 28, 1984, when for the very first time the Archbishop of Canterbury set foot inside St Mary’s Cathedral Rubaga for a joint service.
Others still cherish the late cardinal for his quest for peace and love for his motherland Uganda. In 1985, he secured the Pope’s permission to directly participate in the Nairobi peace talks between former president Tito Okello Lutwa and NRM rebels led by Yoweri Museveni.
The cardinal would spend sleepless nights and busy days to and from Nairobi during that period. It is rumoured that on capturing power in January 1986, President Museveni went to the cardinal’s residence at Rubaga and demanded to be given names of Catholics he (the cardinal) wanted to be made Cabinet ministers.
On development, Cardinal Nsubuga believed in integral development of a man. He started many projects among which were Pope Paul Memorial Community centre (Ndeeba), Bishop Kiwanuka Hostel (Ndeeba), Kyankwanzi ranch, Kisubi bricks factory, Rubaga housing estate and St Mbaaga’s Major Seminary, Ggaba, among others.
Reign at Kampala Archdiocese
During his reign at Kampala Archdiocese, Cardinal Nsubuga ordained 126 priests and nine bishops. The priests he ordained included Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga (at one time his private secretary), Paul Ssemogerere, now Bishop of Kasana-Luweero, and John Baptist Kakooza, now Bishop Lugazi, 1983.
The nine bishops Cardinal Nsubuga consecrated were: late Joseph Willigers (Emeritus Jinja, 1969), Paul Kalanda (Emeritus Moroto and Fort portal, 1981), Erasmus Wandera (Soroti, 1981), Emmanuel Wamala (Kiyinda Mityana, 1981) late Joseph Mukwaya (Auxiliary-Kampala, 1982), Matthias Ssekamanya-Lugazi, 1985) Fredrick Drandua (Arua, 1986), Joseph Onyang (Emeritus Arua, 1990) and the retired bishop of Kasese Egidio Nkaijanabo, who is an elder brother to Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, who was consecrated in 1989.
Born November 3, 1914, to Felix and Estelli Nsubuga at Kisule village in Ssingo County, Mubende District, Nsubuga was baptised at Busuubizi Catholic Parish when he was only three weeks old.
He attended Bukuumi Primary School, Bukalasa Minor Seminary and Katigondo Major Seminary before being ordained priest at Rubaga Cathedral on December 15, 1946, along with the likes of late Msgr Joseph Kyeyune who passed on recently aged 96.
As priest, Fr Nsubuga served at Gayaza and Konge parishes before being appointed Vicar General of then Rubaga Archdiocese on June 10, 1962. Msgr Nsubuga was on October 5, 1962, appointed domestic prelate and later in February 1966 made Vicar Capitural upon the death of Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka.
On August 5, he was appointed the new Archbishop of Kampala by Pope Paul VI after the merging of Rubaga and Nsambya Catholic archdioceses. He was consecrated Archbishop on October 10, 1966.
On May 24, 1976, Pope Paul VI rewarded his hard work by elevating him to a Cardinal. He retired on February 30, 1990, after serving for 24 years and was replaced by Bishop Emmanuel Wamala who also later became a cardinal.