A section of Christians, religious and political leaders on Thursday attacked Church of Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntagali over ‘honouring’ the country’s political leaders above God.
The Anglican Church high priest stopped midway and abandoned the altar and solemn prayer of dedication to mark 40 years since the martyrdom of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and rushed to welcome three top government officials, who had arrived late for the service.
The annual commemoration prayers were held at Wigweng in Mucwini Sub-county, Kitgum District, where Archbishop Luwum’s remains were laid to rest after his murder on February 16, 1977 on the orders of former president Idi Amin.
Top government officials were expected to attend the annual February 16 event but by 10.30am as the prayers commenced, none of them had shown up, not even the guest of honour, Vice President Edward Ssekandi.
But midway the prayers, Archbishop Ntagali and Bishop Odur Karmi, the caretaker of Kitgum Anglican Diocese, abandoned the altar and rushed to join other political leaders in welcoming Mr Ssekandi to the venue.
But the top clerics decision to interrupt the prayers left a section of the faithful angered, among them, former Uganda Peoples Congress party president, also one of the organisers of the event, Mr Olara Otunnu.
Mr Otunnu wasted no time as he jolted from his seat in the tent where the chief guest was also to sit and sprinted forward to Archbishop Ntagali.
“Bishop why are you doing this, why….? Prayers are still being conducted… can this arrangement be stopped, what impressions are you showing?” an angry Otunnu yelled at Archbishop Ntgali before retreating to his seat.
The archbishop, who was caught unawares, froze on his feet for seconds speechless. He later regained his composure and welcomed Premier Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, who both arrived shortly after Mr Ssekandi before walking back to the altar.
Mr Charles Okumu, a pilgrim who attended the prayers, said it was bad for the archbishop to abandon the alter in the middle of prayers to welcome the government officials who arrived late for the function.
“What they did wasn’t good. It’s shaming that they did it at the prayers for late archbishop Luwum who honoured no man but God,” Mr Okumu told Sunday Monitor.
Retired Kitgum Anglican Diocese bishop Macleord Baker Ochola, when contacted, said Archbishop Ntagali was wrong to have walked out of the altar to welcome visitors while prayers were ongoing.
“When you are leading a service, you are the one in charge, whoever comes amid the service; be it the President or the Vice President becomes a parishioner like others. You don’t have to see their position because at that time we are serving God, not them,” Bishop Ochola said.
But Archbishop Ntagali, in an interview yesterday, said the function was hosted by the church and he had the prerogative to welcome the Vice President without being questioned.
“People can say what they like. The event was not a political rally and Mr Otunnu cannot dictate to the church to do what he likes. This is not the first time we welcomed the President in church and besides we didn’t sing the national Anthem,” Archbishop Ntagali said.
Bishop Odur Kami also defended their action, saying: “We just walked quietly from the altar without interrupting church service; we couldn’t leave the visitors we invited to walk in just like that.”
He advised Mr Otunnu not to bring his political problems to the church. At the function, President Museveni, in a speech read by Vice President Ssekandi, hailed Luwum as an uncompromising Christian soldier with integrity and boldness despite the unsecure regime of Idi Amin.
Thousands of people from within and outside Uganda attended the 40th anniversary commemoration of the life of Archbishop Luwum, the former archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga Zaire.
Archbishop Luwum was killed on the orders of former Ugandan President Idi Amin on February 17, 1977, following his unbridled criticisms of the excesses of the regime.
President Museveni, in a speech read by Vice President Ssekandi, hailed Luwum as an uncompromising Christian soldier with integrity and boldness. He said Archbishop Luwum stood with the oppressed unto his death and will always be remembered for his principles, aspirations, and values.