No one would have imagined that a short prayer, recited by a priest 56 years ago, would change a six-year-old’s life forever. But that day, a young Paul Kalanda found his calling. The 86-year- old retired Bishop of Fort Portal takes pride in dedicating his life to the service of God in the Catholic Church. His pillar over the years, lies in the Biblical verse: Joshua 1: 5 –“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.”
The strong and cheerful priest who speaks eight languages,- Luganda, his mother tongue, Kiswahili, Runyoro-Rutooro, Ngakarimojong, Latin, English, French, and Italian, served in various dioceses in Uganda before his retirement in 2005.
Serving in Karamoja
“I am retired and under the care of Masaka Diocese. But I also continue to serve the church and to help the Bishop of the diocese whenever the need arises,” says Bishop Kalanda who is also called Lokiru, a name given to him by the Karamojong when he served as Bishop of Moroto in 1981.
“They told me it rained heavily the day I reported to begin my Episcopal duties and it also rained when I was consecrated Bishop on 22 March 1981 at Namugongo Martyrs Shrine,” he explains. He believes the Karimojong are among the friendliest and most intelligent people he has met. “If they had been exposed to formal education at the same time as the Baganda, I believe they would by now be far more advanced.”
He recalls a few times when he was caught up in areas where armed cattle rustlers were in action. As soon as they noticed that it was him travelling, they would immediately secure passage. He found only three local Catholic priests in Karamoja and by the time he left in 1991, there were 13.
“I was a little frightened earlier about going to Karamoja. I was not quite sure if I would be welcomed or even ever learn their language.”
Born in 1927 to Simoni Zilyawukanya Kalanda and Agnes Nakachwa in Buwunde Village near Kindu in Kyanamukaaka Sub-county, Masaka District, Kalanda had three brothers and one sister. His childhood memories are rich with tales of his years at different seminaries.
Most exciting is how he met Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala in 1935 at a catechism class in Kabwoko Catholic Church. Their paths were to cross again at Bukalasa Minor Seminary in 1942.
The two become lifelong friends. Kalanda often jokes about being ordained a priest first by the minute on December 21, 1957, because his name starts with ‘K’ that is alphabetically before Wamala’s ‘W’. His studies at Bukalasa however were tainted by the loss of his father in 1945.
“I had nobody to pay my school fees. However, Father Timothy Ssemwogerere, one of my mentors, got me benefactors who continued to pay my fees till I joined Katigondo Major Seminary, in 1949, where the education was paid for by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith.”
Katigondo opened his world in the priesthood and saw him get an opportunity with his old friend Wamala to go and study at Urbano University in Rome. He later went to Oxford University in the UK to study African Social Anthropology and the Jesuit Fathers-run Gregory University where he earned his PhD in Canon Law.
“I had my first experience of travelling in a plane in 1955. And it also took me sometime to adapt to the new life in Europe. But we finally did and also soon realised that the white people, after all, had similar weaknesses as every one of us here in Africa.”
Life in the service
Bishop Kalanda has since served in the dioceses of Fort Portal, Masaka, Moroto, Lira; helped set up Catholic Higher Institute of Eastern Africa (CHIEA) in Nairobi which later became the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA); and taught at Katigondo Major Seminary, and African Social Anthropology at Notre Dame University in Indiana, USA. Although he retired in 2003, he was recalled to serve.
“With my small savings, I had erected a house at my birth place in Kindu Village where I meant to spend my old age. I thought everybody understood that I had grown old and fit to retire, but I was surprised by a request from Rome to go and serve as Bishop of Lira Diocese. And so I went and served there for about two years before finally retiring in 2005. I however missed learning and mastering the Langi language.”
When he finally retired, he lived for some years at Kindu where he helped to establish a Catholic Parish. “When Bishop Adrian Ddungu, former Bishop of Masaka Diocese, died, this house became vacant and I was asked to come and occupy it in 2010. The diocese gave me a brand new car, it pays its driver who is a religious Brother of the Bannakaloli Congregation, and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan Congregation take care of the house and preparation of the meals.
It gives me a sense of pride to occupy the house that the great missionary, Bishop Henry Streicher occupied when he lived.”
He likes reading books during his free time and his office is nearly all lined with books. He sees a big difference in the Catholic church of his early priesthood and that of today. “But I believe this is the way even our whole society has changed. Just as the world has changed the church too has changed.
The Ugandan Catholic priesthood has attained the age of 100 years and it is facing new challenges. I wish I could see more priests wearing the clerical collar or the cassock everywhere in public for easier identification,” he says.