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Christianity in Africa

By unc2115 Oct 16, 2012 1575 Words
In the course of the two thousand years, Christianity has been extended to the African continent in three stages. The first stage which is early Christianity, makes Christianity in Africa qualify to be as old as Christianity itself. The second stage involves the Portuguese patronized Christianity in Africa. The third stage of the Christian extension in Africa is marked by circumstances of contemporary modern times. Though the concept of Christianity in Africa is as old as Christianity itself, there are very few figures in its long history that are more influential than Archbishop Joseph Nakabaale Kiwanuka. Archbishop Kiwanuka, the ever first African Bishop, has made an enormous contribution to the expansion of Episcopal Christianity in Africa during the third and final stage of its development. The courageous and spiritual manner in which he lived and taught the concept of Christianity has changed the way Christianity in Africa has been approached and interpreted. Though his rise to episcopacy was clearly an experiment, the success that he has achieved has transformed his story into legendary status. For this reason, it is essential to know about the personality and accomplishments of Joseph Nakabaale Kiwanuka to have a greater understanding of how modern Christianity in Africa has come to be.

Joseph Nakabaale Kiwanuka was born on June 25, 1899 in Uganda to the parents of Victor Kato Mmundwekanika Katumba and Felicitas Namukasa Ssabaweebwa Nankya around twenty years after Catholic missionaries had started coming to the African country. He was raised in a devout Catholic home. His parents brought him up very spiritually, as their actions and beliefs heavily reflected a strong connection to the saints whose names they bore. This particular type of upbringing is common in Africa, where people believe they have spiritual connections to the names given to them. Each day, Victoro led his family through an eight mile trek to Mass at the nearest mission station. Consequently, Joseph was instilled with many characteristics of the Christian faith. He learned early on in his young life the importance of working hard, being responsible, and being social throughout the community. For this reason, he was someone that exhibited great potential and ability, and therefore, he was recognized for it. As a matter of fact, it was these traits that he learned early on in his life that proved to be fundamental in the success that he achieved throughout the rest of his life.

Becoming a Priest
Joseph was sent to Mitala Maria Mission School in 1910, after a missionary had seen him reading a book and was favorably impressed by this ability for a Uganda boy at his age. Soon after Joseph's fourteenth birthday in 1913, African Catholics rejoiced when Bishop Henri Streicher ordained the first native Ugandan priests, Basil Lumu and Victor Mukasa Wameraka. Shortly thereafter, Father Wameraka visited Mitala Maria Mission Elementary School, where Joseph still attended. The young Kiwanuka was so impressed with Wameraka and the sight of a Ganda man in clerical robes that he decided he would seek ordination. Following this particular visit and his successful education at Mitala Maria Mission Elementary School, Kiwanuka decided that he wanted to be a priest. He entered a minor seminary where he completed his middle school and high school years, excelling in Latin. After completing five years at a minor seminary which is a middle and high school for boys aspiring to the priesthood, Joseph enrolled at Katigondo Major Seminary. At the Major Seminary, he really started to learn about philosophy and theology. Here, he drew the attention of Streicher, the archbishop at the time, with his extraordinary academic abilities. Although Joseph was young, Streicher recognized his promise as a future leader. However, Streicher understood that, despite Joseph's brilliance, he would never be given leadership in the African church without training in Rome. Full of determination, Joseph excelled in the school and gained an intellectual reputation, which would later allow him to gain acceptance into higher education opportunities in Rome. He was then ordained by Bishop Henri Streicher at Villa Maria Church on May 26th, 1929. Streicher sent Father Kiwanuka to the Angelicum University in Rome to study Church Law commonly known as Canon Law. Working Towards Success

Kiwanuka has often been characterized as a man of vision, a person who is ahead of his time. Having been ordained a priest as well as completing further studies in Rome, Kiwanuka began to look and work for change in Africa. A testament to his pioneering personality, Kiwanuka then decided to be the first African to join the Missionary Society of Africa known as the White Fathers, which was viewed as an extremely bold move at that time. This was even more amazing because of the opposition he faced from his ordaining father, Streicher. Nonetheless, he went forward with the decision and succeeded. His passionate and intelligent personality eventually earned him an appointment as Vicar of Masaka as well. As a result of his accomplishments and after several pastoral appointments, Kiwanuka was made a seminary professor at Katigondo, where he trained future priests to take the gospel and spread it to their own people. An Enormous Challenge: Being Named Bishop

Perhaps the most indicative event reflecting Kiwanuka’s extravagant personality was his handling of being nominated as a Bishop. Amid much controversy, Pope Pius XII chose to nominate him as the first African bishop, a responsibility that would significantly affect the future opportunities for any aspiring African in the future. That having been said, there was enormous pressure being placed on Kiwanuka should he decide to accept the position. Kiwanuka courageously accepted and never looked back. He took on the great responsibility that came with the unbelievable opportunity presented to him and handled it like very few other people may have been able to do. Throughout his tenure, he was opposed by African nationalists, many of whom viewed Christianity as belonging to Western culture. As a bishop, he exemplified everything he was supposed to be and more. Bishop Kiwanuka lived a life that was filled with spirituality and benevolence, far exceeding the expectations of the critics of his appointment. He filled his schedule with spiritual activity and always acted with the passion that filled his life in whatever he did. Spirituality was the center piece of Bishop Kiwanuka's pastoral activities. This is exemplified by the standard scheduling of his day. Each day he opened with early morning prayers followed by an hour long meditation in company of a group of priests and religious of the diocesan headquarters staff. Along with the daily work he did, he would celebrate the daily Holy Sacrifice of  Mass, pray the angelus at midday, say night prayers as well as the rosary and ended the day by entrusting himself and his people to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He truly cared for the people that he led and had a genuine spiritual relationship with God. Furthermore, Kiwanuka’s effective leadership opened the doors for numerous other Africans. Following his reign as bishop and the precedent he set, over ten African cardinals have been ordained. There are estimated to have been around seven hundred African bishops, directly of a result of the vibrant personality and accomplishments of the great Kiwanuka. During his tenure as the bishop of Masaka, his diocese was distinguished by its spiritual, educational, economic, medical and social effectiveness. Consequently, some observers went to the extent of identifying Masaka diocese as an independent entity even if Uganda as a country had not yet attained political independence.

On December 20, 1960, Kiwánuka was promoted to Archbishop of Rubaga.

Legacy & Lasting Impact
The Archbishop’s accomplishments and personality, though now part of history, will never be forgotten. Kiwanuka was an agent of change who acted how others would not dare. A great example of this is how he resisted complying with the British colonial office when they only wanted British missionaries. An even better example is how he promoted the inclusion of Africist culture in the Christian Liturgies. Archbishop Kiwanuka was truly unique, and made a bigger difference for Christianity in Africa than some men can even dream of. He pushed for the canonization of the first African saints, his efforts finally succeeding in 1964. Other accomplishments that Kiwanuka lays claim to include leading Uganda’s political independence celebrations in October of 1961, writing a pastoral letter on political leadership and democratic maturity during Uganda’s political crisis in 1965, and promoting African authochothnal music in Christian liturgies. Furthermore, he went to Rome to attend the sessions of the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965; during the third session of the Council, Bishop Kiwanuka assisted Pope Paul VI at the canonization of the twenty-two Catholic Martyrs of Uganda on October 18, 1964. Joseph died suddenly on February 22, 1966. For doing all of these things along with expanding the scope of Christianity in Africa, Kiwanuka should always be remembered by people around the world and especially in Africa. Archbishop Kiwanuka allowed for so many opportunities for other Africans and almost single-handedly changed Christianity on the African continent as it had been known. The leadership of Archbishop Kiwanuka opened the door to the full development of the Catholic Church in Africa, which is now entirely in African hands.


1) Shorter, Aylward. “Kiwanuka, Joseph Nakabaale”. 2003.

2) Lugira, Aloysius. “Archbishop Joseph K. Kiwanuka: A Tribute”.

3) Oden, Thomas C. 2007. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. Downers Grove, Illinois.

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