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Church in Eastern Africa Mourns Ugandan Prelate Who Laid Ground for Regional Collaboration

Late Archbishop James Odongo who died Friday, December 4 at the age of 89.

The Catholic Church in Eastern Africa is mourning the passing on of the first African Chairman of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA), Archbishop James Odongo who died Friday, December 4 at the age of 89. 

The pioneer Local Ordinary of Uganda’s Tororo Archdiocese died at a hospital in Kampala, the capital of the East African nation.  

“The Lord has visited us again this morning with the sad news. His Grace James Odongo, the Archbishop Emeritus of Tororo has passed on this morning of Friday 4th Dec 2020 at Nsambya Hospital,” the leadership of the Uganda Episcopal Conference (UEC) announced December 4. 

The late Archbishop was at the helm of the eight-member Regional Conference of Catholic Bishops for six years starting December 1973, overseeing Bishops’ deliberations about the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, including the adoption of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) as a new way of being church.

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At the end of his term as AMECEA Chairman in 1979, Archbishop Odongo continued to serve as a member of its Executive Board for the next three years, during which he represented the regional Conference at the Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

The Secretary General of AMECEA, Fr. Anthony Makunde told ACI Africa December 4 that the leadership of the Nairobi-based Secretariat received the news of Archbishop Odongo's demise "with great sadness but with faith as that is our way back to the Father and the Archbishop has fulfilled his duties and his call here on earth.”

The late Archbishop Odongo is “an icon of AMECEA (who) has left behind a great legacy,” Fr. Makunde told ACI Africa.

The Tanzanian-born Cleric went on to recall the late Prelate’s tenure saying, “The period Archbishop Odongo was the chairman is the period that AMECEA came up with great issues that address the Church in Eastern Africa and the Church in Africa.”

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Fr. Makunde continued in reference to the late Archbishop who was among the representatives of the Church in Africa at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), “He became chairman of AMECEA when the Church at the regional level was trying to assimilate the message of the Second Vatican Council and put down strategies on how they can start living the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.”

“Under the chairmanship of Archbishop Odongo, the AMECEA Bishops also made a statement that we need to build the Church in the form of small Communities. It was this period that the Bishops said they want to have a Church model to be reflected in the Small Christian Communities.”

“Under his leadership, there were many other initiatives, which were also very practical,” Fr. Makunde further said, adding, “The face of the Church in the AMECEA region as it is now has a lot to reflect on the leadership of Archbishop Odongo.”

The late Archbishop “has done his job; he has been called to the Father’s house. We will really miss him but he has left us a lot,” the Secretary General of AMECEA told ACI Africa December 4.

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On his part, the Social Communications Director of AMECEA, Fr. Andrew Kaufa said the late Archbishop is, among other things, remembered for “the fact that when he was chairman of AMECEA, the apostolate towards pastoralists was instituted.”

“It is amazing that they thought about this apostolate in the 1970s,” Fr. Kaufa told ACI Africa making reference to the church ministry to pastoralists and added, “We have all reason to thank God for him.” 

“On this dark cloudy Friday morning of 4th Dec 2020. His Grace Jame Odongo passes on. Rest eternally in peace Papa. Those who went through your 'school of hard knocks' and all those whose lives you touched will always miss you,” Cissy Kags posted on her Facebook page.

A Cleric of Uganda’s Tororo Archdiocese, the late Archbishop was ordained a Priest in December 1956.

He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Tororo in November 1964 and assigned the titular church of Bahanna. Four years later, he was installed as the Bishop of Tororo.

When Tororo Diocese was elevated to the status of an Archdiocese in 1999, he became the First Metropolitan Archbishop. 

Pope Benedict accepted his resignation as Archbishop of Tororo in June 2007. 

At the celebration of Archbishop Odongo’s Episcopate Golden jubilee in 2015, Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, the Archbishop emeritus of Kampala Archdiocese recognized with appreciation the late Archbishop’s leadership at the helm of AMECEA and UEC.

Archbishop Odongo has always been sought “for guidance, which he always gives with clarity, firmness and humour,” the Ugandan-born Cardinal who will turn 94 on December 15 said in 2015.

At the same event, Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Uganda’s Gulu Archdiocese recognized Archbishop Odongo’s intellectual abilities describing him “as a library, a granary of knowledge and the first citizen in the Catholic Diocese of Tororo.”

“Everyone should take advantage of his presence because he is still brilliant in mind and he can give good guidance,” Archbishop Odama said in 2015, making reference to Archbishop Odongo who was celebrating 50 years as a Bishop.

The first requiem Mass for the late Archbishop will be held Sunday, December 6 at the Sacred Heart Lubaga Cathedral of Uganda’s Kampala Archdiocese while the second Mass will be Tuesday, December 8 at St. Austin’s Mbale Church of the Archdiocese of Tororo. 

The Late Archbishop Odongo is expected to be laid to rest Wednesday, December 9 at the Uganda Martyrs Cathedral of Tororo Archdiocese.