Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, who will be celebrating his 92nd birthday on December 15, has had an illustrious career. He was ordained a priest in 1957 and he retired from his position as Archbishop of Kampala in 2006.
The sunny morning of March 7 found us knocking at a black gate at the serene Uganda Catholic Secretariat in Nsambya, Kampala.
At the secretariat located on Hanlon Road, Nsambya Hill next to Nsambya hospital, the gatekeeper flung open the gate and led us to a spacious waiting room where we could meet our source for the day’s assignment.
Chatting away with the rest of the people who also patiently waited to see him, there was no question the person we were about to meet was a man of great repute.
“He is a calm and outspoken man. He corrects mistakes at an instant and that is why I keep referring to him whenever I get into any kind of problem,” one of the waiting middle-aged man said looking at the portrait of Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, the iconic prelate, hanging on the wall.
As instructed by the caretaker, Leonard Ssekiranda, we could only see the cardinal for 15 minutes since we had arrived three minutes late. When it was our turn, we were called to the compound where a table and plastic chairs had been prepared for us.
Out of one of the rooms came Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, who will be celebrating his 92nd birthday on December 15, clad in a white cassock, a mitre on his head and a walking stick in his hand.
He moved to his sit and asked whether we understood Luganda before he proceeded to prompt us into self-introduction.
“When you have to introduce yourself,” he said authoritatively. “You have to give details of where you have come from and what you want the person for besides saying your name.”
Born to Mr Cosma Kyamera and Tereza Namayanja on December 15, 1926 in Bikira Parish in Masaka, Cardinal Wamala attended Kalisizo Primary School before joining Bukalasa Minor Seminary where he completed his school certificate.
From here, he went to Katigondo Major Seminary and thereafter joined the Pontifical University in Rome, Italy, where he studied philosophy, according to a book about him authored by Robert Ssempa.
“I attended only four classes in primary school as was the norm then. After this, we would sit for the Primary Leaving Examinations which were referred to as Makerere examinations then. I was admitted to Katigondo Regional Seminary in 1951 but I was not able to complete my education level at Katigondo, attending for only four years instead of the nine recommended years. Later, I was sent to Rome by Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka to continue with studies at the University of Urbano.”
Life in a foreign country
“I found myself amid students I hardly knew from the different parts of the world: Australia, Vietnam, Ceylon, England, Francophone Africa and to my surprise, for the first time I got a chance to see an Indian priest. I was later welcomed by the only two Ugandan students, James Odongo [former archbishop of Tororo diocese] and George Kiyingi. One can now understand the joy I felt at the moment.
“Nearly all courses were taught in Latin, a language I was comfortable with. A few weeks after the semester had started, another Ugandan student showed up, Paul Kalanda [former bishop of Masaka Diocese] with whom I had attended Kalisizo Catholic Primary School and Bukalasa Junior Seminary in 1942. Now we were to journey together for five years.
“In 1957 while at Collego Urbano, I was ordained sub deacon in Rome. Unlike today, ordinations to holy orders were held on three fixed days of the year. Sub diaconates were conferred on the Saturday before the fourth Sunday of Lent. August 15 was fixed for diaconate and August 21 was for the ordination of priests, but today we no long have the sub diaconates as a step to priesthood.”
First Ugandan Chaplain at Makerere
Cardinal Wamala says being appointed as the first Makarere University chaplain was a sign of growth in his career.
“Priests would be picked from Rubaga to lead mass until the university worked hand in hand with Church to have a permanent chaplain who was to be given a home of residence at the university premises. Again, this was a big strand in my calling,” he reminisces.
Cardinal Wamala served as chaplain for six years from 1968 to 1973. At the time, Prof Yusuf Lule welcomed, him saying, “the task ahead is challenging but at the same time exciting…” Cardinal Wamala remarks, saying, “He was right, I found my ministry both challenging and exciting. There was always something new and unexpected.”
His swift walk through the ranks in his clergy life is exemplary to the rest of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Wamala was ordained priest in Rome in December 1957, and later named by Pope John Paul II as the founding bishop of Kiyinda Mityana in 1958. He later became Archbishop of Kampala Archdiocese, replacing the late Emmanuel Cardinal Nsubuga.
“By 1993 I was the only Catholic Archbishop of Uganda and the chairman of the Episcopal conference. In honour of the conference, I was honoured to invite the Holy Father (Pope) to Uganda for a pastoral visit. During his stay in Uganda, I was with him. During the celebration of the Diocesans day on October 31, 1994 the Vatican Radio announced that the Holy Father had elected me the next Cardinal of the Church in Uganda,” he says.
In 2005, he was one of the 155 cardinals who met at Sistine Chapel in Rome and after invoking the Holy Spirit for a week, Pope Benedict XVI was elected.
“It was a delightful moment. During the elections I was armed with the power of the Holy Spirit even as I walked to drop my ballot paper in the box. I kept looking straight at the image of the crucified Lord. I was then seized by a second feeling that I was participating in crucifying someone,” he says.
He adds, “The elections are different from the usual where you write the name of the candidate you think qualifies to be the next Pope and then cast your vote in the ballot box. Here, before the elections one is expected to fully be acknowledged as a cardinal through showing their background and how much they know the candidate, after which you are eligible to vote.”
“The laws of the Catholic Church about the retirement of bishops are clear; when a bishop turns 75 years, he tenders in his resignation to the Pope. This is what I did in 2001, although I had to wait for his acceptance, which only came in 2006.”
There has been news circulating questioning the health of the elderly prelate, who has been out of the public eye since 2016.
Last year in July, the cardinal was reported to be hospitalised at Nsambya hospital.
Cardinal Wamala, however, dismissed the tales saying he had been advised by his doctors to cut down on his schedule and rest for a while.
However, during this interview he dismissed the claims saying he just has general malaise in the body.
“I am not sick as society may think, it’s only that my body is a bit tired with fatigue, but I am not sick and not on any medication. You see at this age, you don’t expect me to be as vigorous as I was in the early 1990s,” he says.
MESSAGE TO CHURCH LEADERS
Disturbed by the behaviour of the church today, Cardinal Wamala says the role of the church leadership is to steer the congregation to the right direction and make them reach the right place that has been preserved by God.
“We as the Church leaders should remain true to our calling. We need to keep in the right attitude despite the temptations that may come to sway us off the right road. It’s the role of church leaders to lead their people, so we need to emulate this,” he says.
Despite his milled memory, the clergyman seems disappointed in the way the current church leadership is driving the faithful.
“We have to be the eye of everyone,” he says, “This can only be achieved when we respect each other but I also know that we are human beings who are capable of falling at any time.”