When Uganda becomes first African country to host pope

President Milton Obote (2nd L) and his wife (L) receive Pope Paul VI at Entebbe airport on July 31, 1969. Photo courtesy of Lubega Henry

What you need to know:

Made history. As Ugandans warm up to the prospects of hosting the Pope for the third time, we take you 46 years back when Uganda became the first country on the continent to host the Pope in 1969

At exactly 3pm on Thursday July 31, 1969, Uganda made history when an East African Airways Super VC10 plane accompanied by four military jets touched down African soil for the first time. At 3:13pm, the door of the plane opened and the pontiff appeared to a thunderous drumming, clapping, waving and dancing.

President Milton Obote and his wife were on the tarmac to receive him. He was later introduced to other heads of state that had come to Uganda for the historical visit. They included Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Michel Micombero of Burundi, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Gregoire Kayibanda of Rwanda, representatives for Joseph Mobutu of Zaire (now DR Congo), General Gowon of Nigeria and General Emeka Ojukwu, a rebel leader of the breakaway state of Biafra in Nigeria.

In his welcome speech at the airport, president Obote thanked the Pope for the great love to Africa and Uganda in particular by making it his first destination on the continent.

In response, the Pope said, “To all, Christians and non-Christians may our coming to this continent bear humble witness to our sincere affection for Africa…” He concluded his speech with a Luganda phrase, Mwebale nyo Okumpuliliza according to the Uganda Argus of August 1, 1969.

He was received at the Rubaga Cathedral by Cardinal Rugambwa from the Dar es Salaam Archdiocese. The pontiff continued with a meeting with the leaders of the Catholic churches from Africa.

During the meeting with the church leaders, according to Populorum Progressio No 76, the pontiff told the clergy, “The Church will not remain a passive spectator.

Already Church leaders have collaborated actively in each nation’s efforts towards economic and social development. For development is the new name of peace. To wage war on misery and to struggle against injustice is to promote improved conditions, human and spiritual progress of all men.”

The Pope blesses children while on his three-day visit of Uganda in 1969.

After the Rubaga meeting, the pontiff went to Nakasero State Lodge where he was hosted to a State dinner by president Obote. After dinner, the president presented the pontiff with 22 ivory tusks representing the 22 martyrs.

In his speech, Pope Paul VI said: “This nation is particularly dear to the Catholic Church, since it provided the first canonised African martyrs, and the first African bishop of the modern times.”

He went on to bestow upon president Obote, vice president John Babiiha, and Foreign Affairs minister Sam Odaka the Grand Cross of the Order of Pope Pius, and to the speaker of Parliament Narendra Patel and the Internal Affairs minister the Grand Cross of St Gregory the Great.

Day Two
Day two started with an open air mass at Kololo Airstrip where he consecrated 12 bishops from different African countries. Four of them were Ugandans; Albert Edward Baharagate, Sarapio Bwemi Magambo, John Baptist Kabubi and Barnabas Harerimana.

Emile Njeru and Raphael Ndingi were from Kenya, Emmanuel Milingo from Zambia, William Mahony and Anthony Salui Sanusi from Nigeria, Andre Fernad Anguile from Gabon, Jean- Marie-Joseph Pisquire from Cameroon and Constatine Guirma from Burkina Faso.

From Kololo the Pope went to address legislators at Parliament, where he told them: “The Church thanks you for your recognition of her freedom to exist, and to fulfil her mission.

She appreciates this freedom, which means independence in the religious domain; which also means her autonomy in religious matters, together with respect for the political authority. She renders to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

He also appealed to them to maintain human dignity and freedoms. “We are happy to state this, here in Uganda, the land of the martyrs, they affirmed that it is not possible to have a well ordered, dignified and fruitful life among human beings, unless it is founded upon the recognition, protection, and promotion of their fundamental rights as members of a society ordained to function for the good of its citizens.”

After what seemed like a lecture on human rights, freedom and good governance in the company of Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga, the Pope went to interact with the parishioners of Nsambya where he was received by the minister of culture and development, honourable Katiti.

He told the gathering there to “always rejoice in your Catholic Faith. It will sustain you in your sorrow, bring you light in the darkness, and increase your happiness in times of health and prosperity”.

From Nsambya, he went to Mulago hospital where he was received by a government team consisting of honourable Wakhooli, Maj Gen Idi Amin, and Inspector General of Police Erinayo Oryema.

Ministering to the sick, the Pope likened his visit to the biblical story when a sick person was passed through the roof to reach Jesus to be healed. “Since you cannot move from your hospital beds, today it is the Pope who has come through the sky from Rome in order to be among you, and to bring you his blessing,” he said.

“We encourage you to see in your illness and pain the loving hand of God. Let your hospital bed be an altar upon which you offer yourself completely to God. From a paternal heart filled with tender affection, we bless you all. “

From Mulago, he went to Mengo Kisenyi to bless and commission the construction of St Balikuddembe Church. He told the gathering, “Here, from your village, we proclaim to all Africa and the entire world that rural Africa must be aided in developing its immense agricultural possibilities; that the establishment of local industries must replace the exploitation of raw materials; and that the African villager must be helped to become, the master of his own destiny and development.”

He also encouraged the gathering to continue asking for essential services such as roads, transportation, communications, safe drinking water, housing, medical care, education, vocational training, religious assistance and also recreation.

“Great efforts are already being made in this way. We have instructed our Commission on Justice and Peace to enter this struggle, and to work for the betterment of your village communities and your daily living,” the Pope said.
From Mengo Kisenyi, he headed to Rubaga Social Centre, before going to Rubaga where he officially opened the hospital constructed by the Catholic Church. Addressing the management and the sick, the head of the Holy See said: “To you, gentlemen, who are responsible for the completion of this new hospital, we extend our heartfelt gratitude for inviting us to its solemn inauguration. We come here today, not only to praise this material structure, but above all to meet the sick, the suffering and the afflicted.”
From Rubaga, he retired to Nsambya at the residency of the Papal Nuncio where he spent much of his stay in Uganda. At Nsambya, he held a series of meeting with diplomats accredited to Uganda, members of the Catholic Church leadership in Uganda, and the Muslim representatives who paid a courtesy call on him.

Pope’s farewell speech (Edited)
Our last words on the soil of Uganda and of Africa are of thanks to God, who has shown us such rich human, religious, and Christian values in all the persons we have had the honour of meeting.

To His Excellency Doctor Obote and this republic, and to all the nations of Africa, we offer our thanks for the generous welcome given to the humble head of the Catholic Church; and we bear away with us the vision of this immense multitude of human faces, demonstrating the universality of the vocation to the faith, already announced to all nations.

Our parting salutation of respect and esteem is addressed to the heads of state of Africa, particularly to the authorities of Uganda, and to the diplomatic representatives-all of whom have honoured us with their presence.
Until we meet again, God bless Uganda! God save Africa!

Pope Paul VI’s final day

Pope Paul VI (C) tours the Anglican shrine in Namugongo

On August 2, he visited the Namugongo Martyrs Shrines, starting with the Anglican site where he was received by the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Erica Sabiiti, and Bishop of Namirembe Dunstan Nsubuga.

At the Church of Uganda shrine, he was taken on a guided tour of a replica of Mukajanga’s hut (Mukajanga was the Kabaka’s chief guard). At the end of the tour, before going to the Catholic site, Sabiiti presented the Pope with a Bible and a local mat. The Pope in return removed his cross and presented it to Archbishop Sabiiti.

Other Anglican clergy were presented with medals to the jubilation of other guests, including president Obote and other heads of state that were in Uganda for the papal visit.

Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga received him at the Catholic site and thanked the pontiff for his Shs140,000 donation towards the completion of Namugongo Martyrs Shrine. He then invited the Pope to consecrate the Holy Altar built at the spot where Karoli Lwanga was killed.

The Pope moved towards the altar, blessed it and conducted a consecrating mass in which he baptised 22 children, confirmed another 22, all representing the 22 martyrs.

“Here is being raised a sanctuary to the glory of the Lord in their memory; and I come from Rome to bless the altar of this sanctuary. Look at your own Martyrs. They had to suffer for their faithfulness to Christ, it only demands many little sacrifices made frequently; but these sacrifices make life strong and virtuous, they keep it pure and honest,” the Pope said.
After mass, the pontiff removed his papal vestments and miter and presented them to Cardinal Nsubuga.

After the Namugongo mass, the Pope went to Rubaga where he held private meetings with the different heads of state before having lunch with all of them. That evening at 5:30pm he conducted his last mass before departure and he made a contribution of Shs1.4m to the Catholic Church to spread its mission in the country.
When he was on board the EAA VC10, he called the president and thanked him for the hospitality.
Before heading out to Entebbe on August 2, 1969, the Pope made a farewell speech to his host president Obote and the Catholic Church in Uganda and he paid homage to other heads of state that came to Uganda in honour of the first papal visit to the African continent.