JULY 5, 2010: Bishop Odama is new head of Catholic Church in Uganda

Bishop Odama is new head of Catholic Church in Uganda

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Tabu Butagira

Gulu Archbishop John-Baptist Odama yesterday flagged promotion of inter-ethnic unity and economic empowerment of believers as priorities for him to achieve as the new head of the Catholic Church in Uganda.

A congregation of 19 bishops, four auxiliary bishops and 11 erimiti (former bishops) on June 11 chose Archbishop Odama to replace Dr Mathias Ssekamaanya, the bishop of Lugazi Diocese, as the new Chairman of the Episcopal Conference.

This means Most Rev. Odama will now be in charge of the Catholic faithful here, Uganda’s largest religious population, and coordinate activities of the 19 dioceses that individually hold direct access to the Vatican in Rome. “I am not anything special except the servant of the Church and God,” he said when asked how he feels leading Catholics who numbered some 10.2 million of 24.2 Ugandan enumerated in 2002 census.

He added: “For any of the leadership [positions I have held], I never had any dream; wish and never campaigned for any of them.” Late Pope John Paul II appointed Odama, who hails from Oluko Sub-county in Arua District, as pioneer bishop of the then new Nebbi Catholic Diocese in 1996.

Two-and-half years later, the Holy See elevated him as Archbishop for Gulu Archdiocese based in Gulu District, northern Uganda. There, he cut a niche and won awards as a peace-maker by advocating for negotiated end to the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion under the aegis of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative.

With Archbishop Orombi, who comes from Nebbi District, at the helm of the Anglicans here, the selection of Odama for the first time simultaneously places 87 per cent of Ugandans under religious stewardship of prelates from West Nile.

Asked about the vitality of western religion in an increasingly secular country, Archbishop Odama said: “The Church teaches about communion with God and unity among all human races. The message of Christ must be known, believed and lived.” This, he said, was not a command only for Catholics but a message to the whole world because “we must know, love and imitate Jesus Christ”.

Odama’s ascend comes at a crux – he lost his father just about the time of his election, and globally, the Catholic Church is inundated by allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests – but the archbishop says the grace of God will enable him soldier on during his four-year term. “The Church doesn’t approve anything of pedophiles,” he said, “It, however, says those who have committed such transgressions need also to be treated with mercy while they repent.” He adds, “That should be the approach of the Church and the approach while imitating Christ because God desires the conversion, not the death, of sinners.”

Archbishop Odama identified dwindling number of priests and new enlistments for the vocation; laissez faire attitude of believers, strains in inter-religious/ecumenical relationships and economic squeeze as challenges that the Church must confront head-on.
“We can’t be static; we must work to improve the wellbeing of believers,” he said. “The improved life and relationship among believers can make Uganda a better nation.”

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