Hundreds of faithful, members of the Greek Orthodox hierarchy and Uganda officials gathered on Monday for the funeral of Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga who died earlier in September.
A Greek flag was draped over the coffin of the spiritual leader of more than the 500,000 Ugandans who are Greek Orthodox Christians.
Jonah Lwanga was accorded an official state funeral, reflecting on the tremendous service offered by the Metropolitan to this nation including his endless fight for human rights and general guidance in national matters as an elder and top leader of the Orthodox church.
Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, a cabinet minister who represented the government at the funeral, said that “His Eminence ceased to be only a property of the Church but a national icon who undeniably deserves a befitting burial as a national hero.”
Lwanga was laid to rest at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in the town of Namungoona. The ceremony was attended with dignitaries from the government, religious institutions, police and the Army. Three gun salutes were made in respect to the fallen Metropolitan.
The burial service was presided over by Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi along side Archbishop Ieronymos of Mwanza, Tanzania and Bishop Silvester of Gulu and Eastern Uganda.
Lwanga was born on July 18, 1945 in the village of Ddegeya, just one year before the religion was recognized by the government, despite having been established in the early 1900s.
His see was in Kampala, with jurisdiction over all Uganda. His bishopric, about 60,000 people, was founded in the 1930s.
Lwanga’s grandfather, Obadiah Basajjakitalo, was one of the two initial leaders of the Orthodox Church in Uganda, along with Ruben Spartas Mukasa.
Jonah Lwanga: We are all Greeks
He proudly mentioned that his Church in Central Africa, under the Eastern Orthodox Church of Alexandria, celebrated a century of important work in the country.
“We celebrate the centenary of Greek Orthodoxy in Uganda. Starting in 1919, and with God’s help, we managed to convince many native Ugandans that there is a different faith called Orthodoxy,” the Metropolitan related in a 2019 documentary made by Greek Reporter.
The Church has grown exponentially over the last century in this verdant sub-Saharan country. Today, “the clergy consists of about 80 priests, 105 Orthodox communities, schools, and a hospital,” he stated with pride.
The Church’s schools are administered by church management but they all follow the Ugandan educational system. Many Orthodox students who have been sponsored through the Orthodox Church usually return to teach in Church schools.
“The schoolchildren know about Orthodoxy, that’s why they come to be taught at our schools, where they also have the opportunity to learn Greek,” Jonah told the Greek Reporter.
Uganda is one of the first countries south of the Sahara where Eastern Orthodox Christian communities began to form.
Unlike most African Christian communities, Orthodoxy there did not take root through proselytism or through the missionary propagation of faith from the outside. It began instead from indigenous Ugandans themselves, including Jonah’s grandfather Obadia Basajjakitalo, who was a founding member of the Orthodox Church in Uganda.