When the Obote family hosted Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI with former president Milton Obote (C), his wife Miria and their children after hosting the pope in 1969. Courtsey photo

While Pope Paul VI made history as the first Roman Catholic Pontiff to come to Africa, former president Milton Obote also made history as the first African leader and, probably in the whole world, to host the Pontiff at a private residence.

On the evening of July 31, 1969, Pope Paul VI visited Uganda’s first family at their home on Plot 21 Prince Charles Drive at Kololo Hill in Kampala.

Although the Pontiff had come on a State visit to Uganda, as luck had it, president Obote and his wife Miria Obote hosted him at their private residence instead of State House.

How it happened
The ageing former first lady, also commonly referred to as Maama Miria Obote, told Daily Monitor that she was aware from the itinerary that the Pontiff would visit them as soon as his visit to Uganda was confirmed.
“I remember he arrived at our home in the evening and found us standing in the compound with other people waiting for him. By then, the perimeter wall was not there. It was just a hedge and flowers. We, therefore, saw him arriving over the hedge,” she says.

“When he got out of the car, I moved forward with the president [Milton Obote] and our three children (Tony Akaki, Edward Stanly Engena and James Akena) to welcome him. After greeting him, we moved to the sitting room with other people who included the clergy, politicians among others.”
Although the Pope was at the first family’s residence, Maama Miria says she is not sure president Obote and the Pontiff had a private chat.

“I don’t think they had a private conversation because there were other people in the sitting room.”

Maama Miria, however, says it was justifiable for the Pope to visit the president at his private residence and not State House.

“Since the 1966 crisis [when former president and king of Buganda Sir Edward Mutesa II was toppled and ran into exile on May 24, 1966], we had been for some reasons staying here [Plot 21, Prince Charles Drive]. The president would drive to Entebbe [State House] for his work in the morning. During holidays we would also host students from different schools who would engage the president in debates on several subjects.

And when the Pope came to Uganda, we were staying here. And that is why he came to this very house.”

However, the exciting moment did not last long as Maama Miria says the pope stayed at their home for about an hour before he left for Nsambya [Vatican Embassy in Uganda] where he spent the night. She adds that the Pontiff did not have a meal at their home, owing to his limited time.

Asked about how it felt like to host the Pontiff at their home, Maama Miria says it was a moving experience. “A whole Pope to visit our humble home, it was a very moving experience.”