ALL AFRICA REPORT: There is something special about Masaka, especially the Masaka Catholic Diocese. It is the one place in Uganda that has places named based on the Bible; Beteleemu, Nazareti, Villa Maria, Mitala Maria, Galiraya. What is not usually known is that the first Africans to embrace the Catholic priesthood also came from Masaka; Fr Basil Lumu and Msgr Victor Mukasa Wameraka; the first African bishop and former Archbishop of Kampala, Joseph Nakabaale Kiwanuka, and later on a Cardinal in Emmanuel Wamala.
Their efforts marked the end of more than 500 years of unsuccessful attempts to produce priests in Africa. Today Africa has the largest number of Catholic priests in the world, accounting for 27% of 408,024 priests worldwide, according to the Vatican's 2008 census. These priests minister to 1,147 million Catholics worldwide.The census also found that the number of Catholic priests had declined in other parts of the world, prompting Pope Benedict XVI to designate June 19, 2009 as the start of the special year for priests, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Mary Vianney.
The Pope declared St John Mary Vianney, known as the Curé d'Ars, as the Universal Patron of Priests. The Pope called the event a period of reflection and prayer to encourage deepening of the spiritual life for all priests.
While official celebrations ended June 19, 2010 at the Vatican, in Uganda, the Archbishop of Kampala Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga formally closed the year on October 31, with a special call to priests to remain holy as their ministry requires.
"I urge you to be exemplary leaders in your communities and also work hard to ensure that the people attain the kingdom of God," Archbishop Lwanga said. The Archbishop also urged priests to follow the example of their patron saint by being humble and hardworking like John Mary Vianney.
"I can tell you that there are priests who would be out there doing other things, if it was not for our ancestors," he said.The remains of Fr Lumu and Msgr Mukasa lie in Villa Maria parish church, from where the major celebrations for Masaka Diocese were held. Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa commended the first priests for sowing the seed.
Several priests say they have benefited from the year of the priests, drawing on the inspiration of Catholics who turned up daily to say a special prayer for them at the end of each daily mass.
Fr Joseph Kazibwe Ntuwa is the chancellor in the Archdiocese of Kampala and he says he is grateful that many Catholics prayed for them.
"I'm inspired to become a better priest after this special year; I think Catholics out there will see better priests out of us," he said.