The sudden death of Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, who is due to be buried today, has triggered a flood of tears and emotions.
To many, the demise marks an abrupt end to the illustrious career of a top cleric who combined the word of God with work to emancipate, especially the poor.
But beneath the heavy episcopal vestments and elaborate robes, Lwanga, 68, was a man of all seasons and a shepherd beyond religious call outside officialdom.
Those who lived in his inner orbit speak of a generous man, strict, a humour king in robes and stickler.
Through several interviews, we construct the less visible side of the life and personal preferences of the man of collar praised by peers and lay faithful as brilliant, decisive and affable.
From loving to swing to good music to winding down either with a bottle of Tusker beer or washing down a meal with Altar Wine and loathing the use of glasses for bottled beverage, Lwanga’s was a socially outsized life in which spotting him jogging at his official residence in tracksuits was common sight.
Loved to socialise
“Just like any other human being, he had his happy moments and whenever he was excited and there was reason to celebrate, a tusker [beer] was his favourite drink, but he would not take more than one bottle. Once in a while, he would [down] Altar Wine,” said one of his inner staff at his residence who asked to remain anonymous to speak freely.
The archbishop was also witty with a great sense of humour that would help relieve stress for those that were lucky to share a table or be within his vicinity.
He was genial, lighting up the mood even in sombre circumstances.
“In case of any misunderstandings within the family, he would be the first person to throw in a joke to divert the attention of disgruntled people. You would then end up laughing and after the dust has settled, he would invite them for a talk and reconcile them. He was a unifying factor in the family,” said Ms Olivia Nankya, one of his nieces.
Given his busy schedules, he still found time for the family in Kyabakadde and severally visited them often unannounced, something unexpected of an archbishop.
Being a problem solver, he expected instant solutions to all kinds of problems.
“Whenever one asked a question, he would challenge them to share their views and solutions immediately. He always stressed that whoever asks a question must have an answer,” Mr Michael Kabanda, a former Kampala Archdiocese official who worked closely with Lwanga for five years, said.
He was a perfectionist.
“His speed of work and desire for good things superseded human understanding. He wanted every work done perfectly and projects executed in the most transparent manner. His love for perfection at times brought him at loggerheads with those who were too conservative. He always called on leaders to work smart” said
Lived a simple life
“Quite often, he wanted to identify with the poor and vulnerable and liked referring to himself as ‘Nze Cypriano waabwe owe kyabakadde” (Luganda words for ‘it’s me poor Cypriano of Kyabakadde’)” Mr Kabanda said, referring to the prelate’s ancestral home.
He was mindful of personal hygiene and what he shared in public.
“I happened to share a table with the late archbishop during lunch time. One of the organisers brought glasses of soda and the archbishop whispered to me without offending the person who had brought the glasses that ‘I prefer a straw’. On probing further, he responded, ‘you don’t know where they (glasses) are coming from,” Mr Kabanda recollected.
Lwanga has variously been hailed posthumously as development-oriented mind and a person who abhorred laziness.
He was also guided by the belief that one’s spirituality got sturdier with their personal development and improved welfare, as those he worked with can testify.
Rev Fr Jean Marie Nsambu, who worked with him for 10 years in the various capacities, said when the late archbishop introduced his Saabasumba Annual Appeal Fund (SAAFU), he sought a hard-working coordinator who would go to different parishes to encourage the faithful to support his initiative.
“Some priests suggested my name, but I was hesitant to undertake the task. My reason was that I was involved with many other things. Already, I was an attorney, newly getting into the field of law and I was expected at the Law Development Centre. I was also managing editor of the church publication, Leadership Magazine, as well as youth leader,” he said.
Fr Nsambu had also just enrolled for a Master degree programme when and upon the submission, Archbishop Lwanga, rather than excuse him, said: “You are the right person l need. You have just proved to me that you are responsible and diligent, I was not looking for a lazy person. By the powers given to me, l am appointing you [the] coordinator of SAAFU.”
Rev Fr Nsambu, who now lives in the United States, says the late archbishop inspired him to join priesthood.
This was confirmed by many who attest that the deceased loathed laziness.
“He (Lwanga) tried to develop a complete human spiritually, economically and physically. Through introducing so many financial projects and saving cooperatives down to the parishes,” Fr Nsambu said.
Fr Edward Kabanda, the rector of Kiwamirembe Catholic Shrine, said the archbishop worked so hard to improve the welfare of priests.
He also remembers him as a picky eater, but with an insatiable love for apples and sweet bananas.
“He quite often loved [taking] water and well spiced tea and would ask; waliwo ka chai awo (is there tea)?
Lwanga reportedly also loved eating boiled banana (matooke) with groundnut sauce locally called binyebwa.
The late archbishop had a sense of style as he exhibited in his dress code
Mr John Nsubuga, the Saabakristu (head of Laity) of Kampala Vicariate, said Lwanga observed a strict dress code and loathed indecent dressing.
“You would just disqualify yourself from a meeting he chaired if you dressed shabbily. He also asked priests to wear full length clergy wear with clerical collars when representing church or for official duty.
Lwanga did regular physical exercises on the premises of his residence, often dressed in his track suits
He encouraged regular medical check-ups, which is why his sudden death of what doctors said was a result of heart attack and undiscovered blood clot, surprised those close to him.
Rewarded outstanding performance
“He wrote appreciation notes followed by a token of appreciation to leaders that excelled,” he said.
Ms Maxentia Takilambule, former secretary for the Council of the Laity between 2008 and 2015, described Lwanga as a good communicator who answered text messages promptly.
“He interacted with several people, but he knew them by name,” he said.
A former leader of the laity in Kampala Diocese, Mr Anthony Mateega, said Lwanga broke down whenever he visited his people.
“The poverty among communities bothered him so much. He was keen about the future of the Church and getting Ugandans out of poverty. He was a workaholic. Never rested,” she said.
Lwanga was a known as a jolly man and this was manifested and beamed characteristically whenever there was ordination of priests. There is an overall shortage of Catholic priests in the country, according to officials, explaining Lwanga’s job at ordination of new priests.
“He always looked forward to August when he ordained priests. Whenever he achieved [that], he would say it’s time for happy moments at the residence and would organise a party or cocktail to celebrate
His success moments included opening up new parishes which meant extending services closer to the people.
Cause of Death
Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga succumbed to a heart attack caused by a blood clot last Saturday.
He will be buried at Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala today.