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Pope Francis mourns retired Archbishop Odongo

The Papal Nuncio Luigi Bianco during the Requiem Mass for the retired Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, James Odongo at Rubaga Cathedral. Photo by Olive Nakatudde.

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT | The Head of the Catholic Church, His Holiness Pope Francis has mourned the passing of the retired Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, James Odongo.

Archbishop Odongo, 89, who was the first Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tororo died on Friday morning at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. He has also been the only living representative of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa at the Second Vatican Council in Rome which was held between the years 1962 and 1965.

In his message delivered during a Requiem Mass at Rubaga Cathedral by the Papal Nuncio Luigi Bianco, the Pope sent condolences to the clergy and the current Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese Emmanuel Obbo.

He applauded the late Odongo for his long service in priesthood and episcopal ministry in Uganda.

The main celebrant in the Requiem Mass was the Chairperson of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Bishop Joseph Antony Zziwa, who is the Bishop of Kiyinda Mityana Diocese.

“We pay special tribute to the late Odongo for the growth and development of the Church since the Second Vatican Council which he attended personally,” Zziwa said recounting how the late Odongo was very instrumental and committed  to implement of the Council document.

He added that the late Odongo gave his total devotion for the unity and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church describing him as a true shepherd of the flock of Christ.

In the sermon, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga eulogized the deceased for playing a big role in the foundation of Centenary Bank and ensuring that its headquarters are built on Kampala Road.

Archbishop Lwanga told the congregation that they have a cause to rejoice and thank God for retired Archbishop Odongo’s success story.

“I wish to register thanks to God for the gift of life he gave Archbishop Odongo and chose him to serve in his vineyard. He struggled to help people fight poverty, promoted communion, cared for people and has indeed been a good shepherd,” said Kizito Lwanga.

Sarah Opendi, the State Minister of Mineral Development represented government at the Requiem Mass saying that the late Odongo had served the country with distinction through his contribution to Education, Health and other social services.

According to the issued program, the body of the late Odongo will on Monday 7th December arrive at St. Austin Catholic Church – Mbale at 3:30pm and the church will hold a requiem Mass on Tuesday 8th at 12:00pm. On the same day, The body of the Late Archbishop Odongo will arrive at Uganda Martyrs Cathedral – Tororo, at 4:00pm.

On Wednesday, 9th December, Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the Uganda Martyrs Cathedral – Tororo, at 11:00pm followed by interment or burial.

Who is Retired Archbishop Odongo

According to information obtained from the Uganda Episcopal Conference, the Most Reverend Odongo, a renowned theologian and Military Ordinate of Uganda, was born on March 27, 1931, at Molo village located along Tororo-Mbale road in the then Bukedi district. His father, Gabriel Omunyin, was a catechist while the mother Rosalina Nyachwo was a farm worker.

Archbishop Odongo attended Nyangore Pre-Primary School in Tororo and later joined Nyenga and Gaba seminaries before he went to Rome for further studies in theology, where he was ordained a priest at the age of 25 years on December 22, 1956.

When Odongo returned to Uganda 1957, he was posted to several parishes within the then Tororo diocese until when he was elected Titular Bishop of Baana and Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo on November 25, 1964.

He was consecrated Bishop on February 16, 1965, and eventually named the ordinary of Tororo after three years. He was 33 years during his consecration and was the first Native Bishop to his people.

On 2 January 1999, Odongo became the first Archbishop of Tororo when the Holy Father erected the Ecclesiastical Province of Tororo (commonly referred to as the Eastern Ecclesiastical Province) to the rank of Metropolitan Church, the Diocese of Tororo, and assigning to it the dioceses of Jinja, Kotido, Moroto, and Soroti as suffragans.

“Archbishop James Odongo’s contribution and service to the growing Church in Tororo and Uganda, in general, marked him to be a uniquely wise and memorable cleric – who even got the wonderful privilege of participating in the last sessions of Vatican II Ecumenical Council,” his biography on the Tororo archdiocese website reads in part.

Archbishop Odongo by then as the Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo at the age of 34 was among the youngest Council Fathers who attended the last session which concluded the Vatican II Council Meeting; the session that was also attended by Rt. Rev. Colin Cameron Davis, Bishop Emeritus of Ngong Diocese, Kenya, who died in 2016.

Archbishop Odongo faithfully served the Eastern Ecclesiastical Province and in particular the Diocese of Tororo until 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement request having clocked the mandatory retirement age.

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church first came out he was asked by Rome as one of the Council Fathers for any amendments. The theologian made three amendments which were inserted into the document of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which the Church uses today.

Asked about the Vatican Council fours years ago, in his own words he noted that; “the catechism of the Catholic Church is a living document which is transmitting the life of Vatican II Council even to those who never heard of it.”

He was also the first African chairperson of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, a position he held twice.

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