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News Opinion: Lamenting Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga’s death

Questions, plus a state funeral…

At the memorial mass for the Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga on Monday the 5th April, Dr Sekitoleko rose to explain to a troubled but hushed congregation what had caused the Archbishop’s sudden death.

Since Saturday morning when the tragic news of his death was given to us, many rumours of foul play had been flying around, rather like the many twittering bats used to fly about in the dusky evening sky at Bat Valley.

So when the Archbishop’s physician approached the ambo to clarify the matter in a packed Lubaga Cathedral (as packed it could be with SOPs) we were on the edges of our seats.

Opinion: Lamenting Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga’s death

The ambo is the lectern in the sanctuary, reserved for the word of God, homilies and intercessions, or so says the General Instruction for the Roman Missal No.309.

Today it was be used by the doctor for his much awaited intimations about the Archbishop’s death. It was availed to him by no less than the Vicar General.

As the doctor began his speech, I looked up and quickly looked down again, with dread.

I look a second time, this time languidly, feeling helpless like a child hoping for a reprieve for some transgression.

Had the Archbishop really died? Was he really dead, as in not alive?

I must now listen to what the doctor was saying, although I didn’t want to.

I felt like a guilty bystander listening to and watching an appalling event.

The doctor began by telling us that four pathologists had carried out a post-mortem at Mulago Hospital, two of them had been appointed by the church, no doubt to deal with all the circulating rumours, which must be looked into.

Two relatives of the Archbishop accompanied his remains to the mortuary. One hopes they were treated with sensitivity at our reknowned ‘referral hospital’

Mulago Hospital’s casualty ward is where my mother died for lack of oxygen, when she had a stroke in 2002, so the place does not recommend itself to me for anything, not even for procedures on the dead. I can only join the words ‘Mulago’ and ‘hospital’ by an act of faith.

The doctor at the ambo then gave us the crucial findings.

“The archbishop’s death was caused by a heart attack which was caused by a blood clot in one of the vessels which takes blood to the heart. He would have died within three to five minutes”

The good doctor also said that several of the Archbishop’s pre-existing ailments pre-disposed him to this kind of death, though they may not have been immediate causes.

Having concluded his report, the doctor hastened back to his seat near the altar rail, as if taking cover from a potential bombardment of unanswered questions, crowding into our heads.

But we were in church, so there were no questions.

To his credit Doctor Sekitoleko is brilliant at giving meticulously clear explanations of complex medical conditions, but this time we were left with more questions than answers.

How did the clot form? Why did it form? When? In which part of which vessel? Was His Grace given the corona vaccine, which caused clots, or was it something else?

2. The next day Tuesday the 6th April, there was state funeral in Kololo Airstrip, which we reluctantly attended. The President had directed that a state funeral take place to honour the late Archbishop.

For some of us it was difficult. The remains of the Archbishop should have been given a whole day at Lubaga Cathedral where we could pay our last respects and offer many masses.

Instead we were caught up in this depersonalized state drama at Kololo with the man in the hat.

I hear that the state funeral was only grudgingly accepted by the chairman of Uganda’s Catholic Episcopal Conference, to avoid friction and ‘diplomatic fallout’ with the state, at a sensitive time.

Besides, 300 millon Uganda shillings was offered for the other funeral expenses by the state, though not in cash. Service providers were paid by the state and were to provide us with all we needed.

The President in his speech at Kololo wondered why sudden heart attacks were becoming common, and how they could be avoided in the future. I immediately felt one coming on.

He empathized with the Catholic Church for their the loss, but then regaled us with tales of Cardinal Nsubuga’s banana grove at Kyankwanzi which had fed the ‘bayeekera’ while they were in the bush fighting Obote.

I sat in a seat just behind Archbishop Kazimba, a stone’s throw from our beloved President, discomforted. I looked around, but there were no stones to throw.

I prayed (though not too hard) against my dark, unchristian thoughts towards the Fountain of Honour in our midst.

I glanced around at all the soldiers and police doing their security thing. The police band played their sombre tunes quite well, and half a dozen of them marched impressively in a slow march with upturned bayoneted rifles alongside the flag draped casket.

Were some of these officers among the brutal security agents whom the late Archbishop Lwanga had berated so frequently for human rights abuses?

In any case in the presence of the sympathetic Mourner-In-Chief it was bizarre to think of his inhumanity at the same time. Bizzare. A state funeral however is unlikely to erase the memory of it.

As part of the state ‘liturgy’ at Kololo which was mercifully not too long, Archbishop Lwanga was honored, if that is the right word, with a 17-gun salute to conclude the first part of the two-hour service.

Soldiers stood obediently to attention and saluted crisply, while the guns roared.

Our inimitable President doffed his indecorous white-brimmed hat and stood motionless, and, in my jaded view, a touch menacingly, with the super-saved First Lady.

With each terrible and deafening blast of the guns, I felt the chill of death ripping through my body.

It was as though the archbishop was being blasted to smithereens – with all of us too.

Fare thee well Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.

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