What you need to know:
- A journey of faith. He admired priests from childhood. After secondary school , he instead pursued a Bachelor of Pharmacy, but still felt the conviction to serve God as a priest.
- Julius Caesar Kamukama quit the medical profession and went to fulfill his dream. He was ordained priest on August 27 and, tells his story to Edgar R. Batte.
“I am a believer that we can always become better no matter our current state, and regardless of what other people might believe about us. I am very convinced about God’s power to transform any life,” says the Rev Fr Julius Caesar Kamukama, a newly ordained priest.
His childhood aspiration was priesthood after he had met priests in his home parish who would chant some parts of the Holy mass. These included Fr Joseph Kamugasha, Fr John Baptist Tibamwenda and Fr Evarist Karuhanga.
An adolescent who had just joined secondary school, he thought he could pursue a dream of becoming a doctor or pharmacist and his friend, Mike Mugisha, told and encouraged him about paying attention to studying science subjects.
“I was hooked, and it became a strong driving force throughout my studies,” he adds. He pursued and completed a Bachelor of Pharmacy, did internship for a year at Mulago hospital.
While at university, he taught at Crested Secondary School, Makindye, became a career guidance teacher who journeyed to different schools to give guidance talks to learners and to do leadership training.
One recurrent thing he told young people was to learn to discern what God has imprinted in their hearts, and to be faithful to their innermost convictions.
Undoing his lie
At a certain point, Kamukama felt like he was living a lie.
“I was telling people to be true to their inner selves, and I was avoiding the committed service of priesthood due to a family situation. I prayed and reflected and talked to Chris Byaruhanga and his wife Lady Justice Immaculate Busingye,” he recollects.
About a year after registering as a pharmacist, he joined seminary formation. The motivation to become a priest had not died. He felt that was the best way to serve God.
He still feels the same. This time, though, he knows that this ‘best way’ is not as compared to others, but that there are some people for whom it is the best way; it is a strong inner pull that he cannot fully explain.
The first steps towards achieving this aspiration, was by going for three extended prayer moments. He did a retreat at the Vincentians House in Entebbe, a one-week empowerment course at Emmaus Centre Katikamu, and a pilgrimage to Kibeho, Rwanda.
He then called the Rev Fr Danstan Asiimwe, the then vocations director of Mbarara Archdiocese. He had already admitted a group to Kyera Vocations Centre for orientation.
That is the place where those who have not gone through the formal way of Minor Seminary such as St Augustine Minor Seminary Rwera, go for a year of orientation before joining major seminary.
At that moment, his conviction was so strong he did not want to miss that admission cohort. Fr Asiimwe asked Kamukama to be patient as he consulted the bishop.
When the Bishop assented, Kamukama was admitted for the orientation programme and he was the last to arrive.
He hails from a humble, rural family. His father, Valentino Kanyomoozi, was the first born among his many siblings and his mother’s only son and child.
He died when Kamukama was only four years old, while his mother, passed on when he was 10. With his sister, Joan Kyobutungi, they were raised by their maternal grandparents, and the grandmother taught them generosity towards humanity.
“We grew up running errands to deliver part of the little we had to neighbours, the sick, and the elderly. That has been part of my life, so much so that sometimes friends say I am being financially careless,” the young priest says, affording himself a chuckle.
Grandmother also drummed into them the saying that they were the masters of their bodies, and not the other way round. That is how the two youngsters managed to grow up without drinking alcohol.
Additionally, the old woman did lots of sex education talk from when they were very young, so much so that some of the knowledge he got then, he only understood very well when he went to medical school.
She taught her grandchildren to value people, to greet them joyfully, and to be compassionate. Nonetheless, the pain of growing up as orphans still irked them, not because they lacked but from the stigma of having lost parents to HIV/Aids.
He cannot say he has fully overcome the stigma, yet. It remains the biggest challenge. In his pursuit of priesthood, Kamukama struggled adjusting to the restrictions of seminary life.
A seminary has a specific full-time programme that one must follow, with the rest of the community. It was unlike the university life he was used to, where there were different programmes for different groups.
Well, living past such trials and tribulations life has thrown at him has, at times left him angry or very sad, especially when he received a big blessing in his life.
“The feeling that my parents should have been around to be proud of me is much of a painful thought,” he says.
The great blessings that he has received in life, however, are a big encouragement that being an orphan, even from a young age, does not necessarily translate into failure in life.
The past has been part of the building blocks to his strength of character. He has been helped by so many people who were not his parents, his maternal grandparents then the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel of Mbarara who paid his fees in O-Level, and so many others before and after that.
“After O-Level, someone was willing to pay my school fees at St Mary’s College, Kisubi, I have a feeling Anthony Rucukye, an OB, who is an engineer and friend asked in my favour. Most of my medical school classmates were exceptionally kind people. I have grown to try, as much as I can, to help others,” he narrates.
Whatever little he gets, he tries to share it with others, especially when he can help a child get an education. That is why he registered ‘The Intwari Foundation’, with the objective of helping some children with school fees. His fees was paid by strangers.
His turning point
When he received application forms to join St Joseph’s Vocational School, Mbarara through the kindness of the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Counsel, he was very excited. That meant he would travel from Rwera his home village to Ntungamo Town for the first time.
When he went, the headmaster, Fr Baingana Muntu, the one he had admired at a party of the Kanyemibwas in primary school, challenged him upon his results. He could not believe that a village boy from a rural Kahungye Primary School could top a district with the likes of Kitunga High School and Kemishego. The headmaster was from Kagamba, so he knew these schools.
“He challenged me to show by my performance in secondary school that these results were mine. That made me super determined to do my best. The school offered me an opportunity, as early as Senior Two, to travel to Norway, and later to Tanzania.”
It was there that Kamukama met Rucukye Anthony and Dr Mike Mugisha, inspiring individuals who have been role models to him ever since. His subsequent blessings he attributes to the secondary schools.
One of the highlights in his journey of becoming a priest is his pastoral spiritual year experience. He was assigned to St Mary’s Vocational School, Kyamuhunga.
He spent a whole year with Fr Ignatius Nimwesiga, the Chaplain, and Fr Felix Tumuhaise, the head teacher who were caring parents and formators. They trusted the young Kamukama with several responsibilities and took time to advise and encourage him.
On August 27, this year, Kamukama was ordained into priesthood. He is excited and anxious at the same time. He realises the big responsibility ahead of him.
“Ordination in the Catholic church is not a sacrament for an individual. It is given for the good of all the people of God. The priest represents Christ to the people. That is a huge responsibility, if it is to be done well,” he says.
He was ordained at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Nyamitanga Cathedral in Mbarara Archdiocese. With his cohorts, they had a week-long retreat for spiritual preparation. The next day, August 28, he celebrated a solemn thanksgiving Mass at Rwera Parish, Ntungamo District followed by a luncheon.
On his wish list is a work schedule about character development directed, especially to the youth.
“I intend to reach out to at least one million youths. As soon as I get the money to publish it, I want it to be my official priestly souvenir,” a hopeful Rev Fr Kamukama says.
“In his Senior Four vacation, Julius faced a dilemma of whether to join St Mary’s College,Kisubi (SMACK) his first choice or remain at St Joseph’s Vocational School(JOVOC) for A-Level. Three students that had scored aggregate 8 in 8 at JOVOC before him had all joined other schools for A-Level. Even when there were possibilities of OBs sponsoring his education at SMACK, Julius remained at JOVOC. I think deep down in his heart-God was enough for him. Then, he came top of his class at A-Level, winning a government scholarship to study Pharmacy at Makerere University. Difficult and engaging as the course was, and taught quite a distance from the university, Julius was a very active member of the St Augustine Catholic Community, eventually serving as chairperson of the Central Executive Community. Indeed, God was enough!” Anthony Rucukye, former role model