TORORO – HOMILY FOR THE BURIAL OF HIS GRACE JAMES ODONGO, ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS OF ARCHDIOCESE OF TORORO
DELIVERED ON DECEMBER 9, 2020, AT NYANGOLE CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL, ARCHDIOCESE OF TORORO
My brothers and sisters.
It is my esteemed privilege to preach the homily on this sad occasion, when we bid farewell to one of the icons of the Catholic Church in Uganda. I thank the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, His Grace Emmanuel Obbo, for considering me fit for this task. Like Shakespeare, in his Book Julius Caesar, “I come to bury Archbishop James Odongo, not to praise him. The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”
After nearly 64 years as a priest and 55 years as bishop, almost reaching 90 years in March 2021, Archbishop James Odongo has truly lived as a shepherd of the multicultural mosaic of many tribes in Tororo Archdiocese.
We have come to give him a honourable send off and to celebrate his life, and, at the same time, wish him safe journey to eternity, where in the word of the book of Revelation, he will enjoy the vision of God with throngs of people from all the nations (Rev. 4:1ff), and, in Christ’s words, join the heavenly wedding banquet (Mt. 22:1-14).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, eternal life has been promised to Archbishop James Odongo and to each one of us. This promise, although a free gift on the part of our Creator and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, obliges us to fulfil certain conditions as a sign of our acceptance and commitment. The scriptures challenge us that if we are to attain heaven we must:
• leave everything and follow the Lord as shown in the story of the rich young man (Lk. 18:18-30);
• carry the cross and follow Jesus (Mt. 16:24);
• love others and feed them, clothe them, empathize with them in their pain and suffering, and make them welcome when they are strangers because they represent Christ’s own situation (Mt. 25:31-46);
• turn the other cheek when we are struck (Mt. 5:9; Lk. 6:29);
• forgive seventy times seven (all the time) (Mt. 18:22), and as Jesus himself forgave his tormentors on the cross (Lk. 23:34);
• proclaim the kingdom of God, teach and baptise in the name of Christ (Mt. 28:19);
• witness Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 1:5-8);
• welcome the kingdom like little children (Lk. 18:16; Mt. 19:14);
• witness the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:12-15; Mt. 10:19; Mk. 13:11);
• reconcile with others by preaching and living peace (Mt. 5:9; 23-25);
• totally give ourselves to God (Lk. 6:38; Mk. 4:24);
• be the light and the salt of the earth, that is, exemplary in our Christian living (Mt. 5:13ff);
• utilize our talent to the full in the service of the kingdom of God and of our neighbour, regardless whether we were given one, two or five talents (Mt. 25:14-30);
• live wisely, as illustrated in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1-13), in other words, be awake in the service of the Lord because we can correctly interpret the signs of the times (Mat 16:1-4; Mk. 13:32-37; Mt. 26:40);
• search the lost sheep and gently return them to the fold, and bandage their wounds (Lk. 15:1-7; Jn. 10:16);
• live the beatitudes and respond to the call to holiness (Eph. 1:1; 4:17-32 and other letters of St Paul; 1 Pet. 2:9); and,
• express our faith in practice by serving others (Jas. 2:17).
The scriptures above, and many others, provide important yardsticks for all of us believers, including Archbishop James Odongo, for attaining the reward of heaven. Throughout his life, since he became priest in 1957 and, later, bishop and archbishop, James Odongo strived to live by the above divine standards. He demonstrated it in his zeal to promote the different ministries of Christ in Tororo Archdiocese. He promoted the healing ministry by supporting the establishment of health centres; the ministry of the poor by establishing a home for orphans and persons with disabilities; and the ministry of children by establishing schools with strong Catholic values, for he believed that education without religion created devils.
Above all, Archbishop Odongo, was committed to protecting and promoting the prophetic ministry of the Church. Accordingly, he promoted vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and, as a good shepherd, he cared for and trusted his priests, and always gave them the opportunity to defend themselves whenever they made mistakes. He always encouraged them to be good generals, in order for the church to have good soldiers of Christ. He was convinced there were no bad soldiers, but bad generals.
Archbishop James Odongo will also be remembered for protecting and upholding the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church and of the Gospels (Gal 1:8; 2 Cor. 11:4). Among his wise sayings, there is a quote from an old protestant song dated 1873, which goes “Give me that old time religion…It’s good enough for me, Makes me love everybody…It was good for Hebrew children. And it’s good enough for me….” This is not to say that Archbishop Odongo was not open to modifications in the traditions and practices of the Catholic Church.
Rather, as a believer in inculturation, adopted by Vatican II Council, which he attended, he always wanted such changes to be informed and directed by the fundamental tenets of our faith and of the teaching of the Church.
At a personal level, Archbishop Odongo lived a life characterized by simplicity; care of neighbour and willingness to give to others without the right hand knowing. He was kind and extroverted and cared more for others than for himself, as characterized by his signature greeting “Hi…”, and when asked how he felt, he would respond: “Am well and a champion without record.”
Archbishop also believed that laughter was the best medicine and encouraged people to laugh. He loved a cheerful heart.
He cherished truth and believed that a lie could not go far because it walked on crutches.”
Dear brothers and sisters, most importantly, and true to his vocation, Archbishop James Odongo, was a man of prayer. He cherished the liturgy (the Holy Mass and Breviary), the Rosary, and the reading of the Bible and spiritual writings. He was a good spiritual counsellor who helped many people, lay, religious and priests, to overcome their existential problems.
Archbishop James valued the role of the laity in the church. He encouraged them to be leaders and members of the parish councils, always emphasizing that the church was theirs, that without them the church was not. This is illustrated in his pastoral plan, titled “Marching into the Year 2000 in Faith, Hope and Charity”, as well as the proceedings of the Synod of 2000.
The life of Archbishop Odongo can, therefore, be described as a life well lived, a life lived for God and for humanity. In this way, he has left a legacy for his successors, the clergy, the religious men and women and the laity.
His life is an illustration of the fact that if we put God at the centre of our lives and plans, we can do a lot to transform the world and win it for Christ. I exhort you, therefore, to follow his philosophy which is embedded in his Episcopal Coat of Arms “Adiuva Nos Deus Salutis Nostrae” (help us, God our salvation)
At this juncture, I invite all of us to applaud Archbishop James Odongo for his selfless service to the Church and the people of God, and for providing us with many useful lessons from his personal life (congregation stands up and claps). As Christians who believe in the resurrection, we know he has gone to be with the Lord. Let us pray for him, and for ourselves that when that time comes, we too will be found ready to embrace Christ as he truly is (1 Cor. 13:12).
May the almighty God grant him the crown he has worked for all his life. With St Paul we say, he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7).
May the soul of Archbishop James Odongo rest in eternal peace!