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Newly Ordained Bishop in Uganda Says Faith Saved Him During DR Congo’s Deadly Conflict

Bishop Rapheal p'Mony Wokorach of Uganda’s Catholic Diocese of Nebbi. Credit: Courtesy Photo

For a moment, Bishop Rapheal p'Mony Wokorach who ascended to the helm of Uganda’s Catholic Diocese of Nebbi over the weekend thought of abandoning Religious Life when he found himself exposed in one of the deadliest conflicts in Africa.

Speaking during his Episcopal Ordination Saturday, August 14, Bishop Wokorach underscored the need for Church leaders to strengthen the faith of those they serve, noting that it was faith that saw him walk past the ill-famed Kisangani conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where he served as a Comboni Missionary Priest.

“Our role as the leaders of the Church is to awaken the sense of listening to the voice of God so that faith that we are praying for may be strong,” Bishop Wokorach said.

He explained, “I say this because in some moments in my personal life, it was as if life without faith would have been so different for me. I remember in 2000 in Kisangani Congo, I thought it was the end of my life because of the war that destroyed the Seminary where I was and at some point I questioned myself ‘what am I here for’. The only thing was a life of faith. It built me, it strengthened me.”

The Ugandan-born Bishop was making reference to the conflict that involved a series of armed confrontations between Ugandan and Rwandan forces around the city of Kisangani in DRC from 5 to 10 June 2000. 

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Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers battled for six days for control of DRC's third-largest city, frustrating United Nations efforts to secure a cease-fire and reportedly leaving at least 150 civilians dead and another 700 wounded.

Bishop Wokorach spoke broadly about the importance of faith during his ordination that had been postponed from June 26 owing to COVID-19 restrictions in Uganda.

“Life of faith reveals to us the power of God. Faith is the love of God in us that moves us. And we are moved by what we love, not simply what we know and when we know what we love we shall know the direction of our lives,” he said.

The Bishop continued, “We pray that as we move on to build the faith in the Diocese, we walk together with the focused sense of listening attentively to the voice of God. Sometimes, it comes in a strong way, shocking ways, sometimes in a subtle way but we should listen.”

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Pope Francis appointed the member of the Comboni Missionaries Bishop for Uganda’s Nebbi Diocese on March 31 after the Episcopal See became vacant in 2018 following the transfer of Bishop Sanctus Lino Wanokhe to Uganda’s Diocese of Lira.

 

In an interview with ACI Africa soon after the news of his episcopal appointment became public, Msgr. Wokorach said his elevation was a sign that God is guiding his Priestly ministry, reminding “me of what I should do to make people access God.”

When ordained a Bishop, the Ugandan-born Cleric said during the March 31 interview, he would continue to participate in “the Priesthood of Christ,” and explained, “In the Priesthood of Christ I see one thing: being closer to the people because we work hard to bridge the gaps, the separation, which may be a reality in the Church or the ministry.”

“The Priesthood also requires discipline, which transforms this life so that we may day by day be worthy to offer the sacrifice and make the people accessible to God. By being closer to God, we also make people access God,” Msgr. Wokorach told ACI Africa.

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In the message after his Episcopal Ordination August 14, Bishop Wokorach urged all Catholic Bishops to look upon St. Daniel Comboni for guidance and inspiration, adding that St. Comboni had a great vision for the African continent.

“I look at St. Daniel Comboni as a model Bishop. As I take up this responsibility, I recall how much his faith sustained him in different situations of life. He dreamt Africa, he smelt Africa... Africa or death,” the 60-year-old Bishop said.

He added, in reference to the founder of the Comboni Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MCCJ), “This was an outstanding Pastor, a shepherd whose faith was strong, whose faith made his life sensitive to the various needs of his people.”

St. Comboni, he continued, “is standing in front of me as a great and exemplary Bishop, holy and capable. We know he was canonized as a saint; difficult to follow completely but can inspire. I believe he is a model for all Bishops.”

Bishop Wokorach referred to St. Comboni as his own model, saying that the Catholic saint’s dedication, piety and humanity are wonderful examples.

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He appealed for prayers from the people of God in Nebbi Diocese saying, “As much as I desire to be like him (St. Comboni), may I also invite you my dear friends to keep praying for my faith to be strong all the time. And when you pray for me, please keep this formula: that I may be a good shepherd according to the Sacred heart of Jesus.”

The Ugandan-born Bishop expressed his desire to walk with the people and be available all the time to attend to their needs.

He said his Episcopal Ordination on August 14 drew memories of the start of his missionary apostolate as a Comboni Priest.

“This day is special to me,” he said, and added, “August 14 in 1994 was the day I arrived in my first mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was the day I started my mission in foreign land, Kinshasa.”

“I feel connected with my past. I feel renewed in my spirit of starting a new journey. This day is special because we are winding up and confirming what the Pope has honored us with,” Bishop Wokorach said.

In his call for the support of his Episcopal See, the Bishop said, “Nebbi Diocese is a place of pilgrimage. In a religious term, it would be called ‘the mother place.’ We cannot forget the place of our mother.”

Bishop Wokorach’s Episcopal motto is, ‘Service with Humility,’ which he said was inspired by his Priestly ministry.

“I look at all ministries that can be meaningful in the eyes of God when characterized with humility. Humility makes all kinds of service meaningful,” Bishop Wokorach said.