Before he was bedridden, the Bishop says he would spend the day praying. When he was not praying, he was busy solving Mathematics problems, remembering the old days in the 1960s when he was a teacher at St. Leo’s College, Kyegobe.
Bishop Albert Edward Baharagate says prayer, solving mathematical problems and engaging in sports activities kept him going in his long years of retirement.
Baharagate, the Bishop Emeritus of Hoima Catholic Diocese, is one of the 12 priests who were consecrated bishops during the first Papal Visit to Uganda and Africa. Pope Paul VI himself consecrated the 12 at present day Kololo Independence Grounds, on August 1, 1969 during his three-day visit.
Now aged 92 years, 31 of those as a retired bishop, Baharagate shares his story with Uganda Radio Network.
At a quiet and modest parish house
in Masindi town just a few metres from the Presidential Lodge, the faithful are
deep in devotional prayers on a Tuesday afternoon with some learners carrying
out music practice in the compound.
This serene and calm parish, named
after Saint Jude, has for the last two years been home to Dr Albert Edward
Baharagate, currently, the longest living catholic bishop in Uganda having
marked his 53rd episcopal anniversary on August 1.
Baharagate was born on February 25,
1930 at Nyamigisa village, in Masindi District, to Isdore Kwebiiha Abwoli and
Febronia Kabanaku Abwoli. After his early education at Sacred Heart of Jesus
Primary School in Nyamigisa, which was later renamed Saint Dominic Savio
Primary School, Baharagate joined St. Francis Xavier Kitabi Seminary in Ankole.
At Kitabi, he met other students
including Sarapio Magambo from Kyaka, Tooro; Barnabas Halem‘Imana from
Rurangara, Ankole; and John Baptist Kakubi from Birundama in Ankole. Their
paths would cross again later in their priestly journeys, including that joint
episcopal ordination in 1969. Baharagate was ordained into priesthood on
December 7, 1958.
With God granting him the gift of a
long life, Baharagate is now the only surviving Founding Father of the
Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Established in July 1969, SECAM is a forum that brings together Catholic
bishops from Africa to chat ways of preserving, fostering and promoting
communion, joint action and collaboration.
At 92, Baharagate may be frail and
spending long hours in bed, but he dismisses all this as temporary. “I couldn’t
greet you in a better way. Lately I have been making a few movements from this
bed. But I am still strong and this situation is just temporary.”
Baharagate currently lives a modest
life with a television set as the only luxury that can be found in his
two-roomed quarters which are just two rooms away from the office of the parish
priest. Before being bedridden, the bishop says he spent the day praying.
The only time he was not praying, he
was busy solving Mathematics problems remembering the old days when he was a
teacher at St. Leo’s College, Kyegobe, in Fort Portal. This was years before he
was sent to Rome for further studies.
//Cue in: “It's enjoyable…
Cue out:…I treat them.”//
Besides Mathematics, church music
and sports are two other things that cannot get out of his memory. Talking
about sports he talks about his love for tennis and football.
“I was the best in football. You can
ask around,” he said with a broad smile showing his love for the game. No
wonder even the news of his appointment as Bishop of Hoima broke to the public
while he played football with his colleagues back in July 1969.
Alifunsi Tugwezire, who has been at
his side for the last 41 years, attests that besides episcopal duties, the
bishop loved, played and supported the game during his tenure as bishop and
some years in retirement.
Remembering his golden days at the
court and pitch, the elderly bishop says that when he rises from the sick bed,
wants to build a lawn tennis court in the parish so he can enjoy watching
people play and inspire the next generation.
"Sports teach young people
discipline. That is crucial. I used to play lawn tennis well, and if my health
improves, I'll see to it that a court is built here," the bishop said.
The bishop is now forced to watch
sports on television since he is unable to enter the play areas. The TV screen
is just strategically placed so that he may see it whenever he wants from his
four by six bed.
Away from sports, the bishop also
wants to remain informed on current affairs and he tunes to the news bulletin
Relocation and ill health
Tugwezire notes that for the last 29
years, the prelate lived outside of the Hoima Diocese but in 2020, he decided
to return home, spending a year at St Cyprian Parish in Hoima before he finally
relocated to his home parish in Masindi.
The bishop’s helper adds that,
unfortunately, a few days after their relocation, the bishop suffered an
accident as he was coming out of a bathroom leaving him with a fracture in his
thigh bone which has since made him immobile.
Luganda//Cue in; “Ng’omuwanirira...
The bishop's schedule has
subsequently been scaled back to accommodate his condition of health, according
to Tugwezire. Currently, he begins each day with Mass, which is said in a
chapel that is just adjacent to his living space.
Bishop Baharagate is wheeled to the
room because he is currently unable to walk, and after the mass, he consumes
his breakfast, which consists primarily of coffee and biscuits.
Although the physicians had advised
that the bishop be helped to do physiotherapy so that he might get up again,
Tugwezire says that Baharagate has subsequently refused this advice, on grounds
that it would expose him to unnecessary pain.
//Cue in; “Era twagezaako…
People who live with the bishop have
observed that on his good days, he enjoys telling stories of his younger days
as a student in Rome, his amazement at being elected bishop, and the events of
his consecration by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
One of the curates at St. Jude, Rev.
Fr. Morris Kida, said that because of his advanced age, the bishop is not able
to perform many activities. Whenever he meets with priests, he offers advice on
how to evangelize and resist early temptations.
“Old is gold. That saying becomes
true when you get in the presence of Bishop Baharagate. He lives simple. On
good days, he cannot refuse to give advice to us the young priests. He is a
living treasure, an icon,” Fr. Kida noted.
Advice to the faithful
Baharagate advises the faithful to
always work hand in hand with priests to avoid unnecessary clashes.
//Cue in: “I would advise…
Cue out…avoid that.”//
The 12 Bishops at Kololo
1. Albert Edward Baharagate, Bishop
of Hoima Diocese from 1969 to 1991.
2. John Baptist Kakubi, Bishop of
Mbarara Diocese from 1969 to 1991. He died in November 2016, aged 86.
3. Sarapio Bwemi Magambo Abwoli,
Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Portal from 1969 to 1972. He was appointed Bishop of
Fort Portal from 1972 to 1991. He died in February 1995 at the age of 66 years.
4. Barnabas Rugwizangonga
Halem‘Imana, Bishop of Kabale Diocese from 1969 to July 1994. He died in
January 2016 at the age of 87 years.
5. Raphael Simon Ndingi Mwana’a
Nzeki, Bishop of Machakos, Kenya from 1979 to 1971; Bishop of Nakuru from 1971
to 1996; Coadjutor Archbishop of Nairobi from 1996 to 1997; Archbishop of
Nairobi from 1997 to 2007. He died in March 2020 at the age of 88 years.
6. Emile Njeru, Auxiliary Bishop of
Eldoret, Kenya, from August 1969 until his death on September 5, 1970, in an
automobile accident. He was only 40 years and had spent 12 years as a priest
and just a year as a bishop.
7. Emmanuel Milingo, Archbishop of
Lusaka, Zambia, from 1969 to 1983. In 2001, Milingo, then Emeritus Archbishop
of Lusaka, disappeared from his residence at the Vatican and then appeared in
New York as a groom to Maria Sung, a South Korean woman. He had also joined the
Unification Church headed by a South Korean-born evangelist named Sun Myung
Moon. In September 2006 Pope Benedict XVI excommunicated Milingo from the
Catholic Church. In December 2009, the Zambian born prelate was laicized. When
a priest is laicized, he is dismissed from a clerical state and secularized,
becoming a "layperson”. This means Milingo, now 92, is barred from
carrying out priestly duties and dressing like a priest.
8. William Mahony, Bishop of Ilorin,
Nigeria, from 1969 to 1984. He died in November 1994 at the age of 75.
9. Anthony Salui Sanusi, Bishop of
Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria, from 1969 to 1990. He died in December 2009, aged 98.
Pasquier Auxiliary Bishop of Garoua, Cameroon, from 1969 to 1982; Bishop of
Ngaoundéré, Cameroon, from 1982 to 2000. He died in March 2004 at the age 79
11. Andre Fernand Anguile,
Archbishop of Libreville, Gabon, from 1969 to 1998. He died in December 2001,
12. Constantin Guirma, Bishop of
Kaya, Burkina Faso, from 1969 to 1996. He died in August 2010, aged 90.