​ Memories of a Ugandan Christmas and lessons from a Canadian experience

​ Memories of a Ugandan Christmas and lessons from a Canadian experience

St. Peter's Cathedral, Rugarama, Kabaare, Kigyezi on December 25, 2019. Photo © Muniini K. Mulera



I trust that you had a blessed Christmas celebration. This was our third Christmas in a row celebrated away from Uganda. The Lord, of course, always delights in our worship of Him regardless of our address.  Furthermore, our worship is not limited to a specific date and time of the year. 


However, the joy of fellowship in worship with fellow Christians in a church at home is not easy to surpass. I recall Christmas worship ten years ago at Our Lady of Good Shepherd Cathedral, Rusoorooza, Kabaare. (That is the correct name of the hill on which it is situated, now distorted to Rushoroza, itself a misspelling of Rushoorooza.) This is the main seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kabale Diocese, which attained that status in 1966. 



The church building, completed in 1937, I believe, is one of the great cathedrals of Uganda. It’s beautiful exterior walls, hugged by ornamented brick columns and towers, were the work of architects and builders who put beauty before cost. Its long, rectangular sanctuary, overflowing with worshippers whenever I was there, had a simple design that was at the core of its beauty. Its high roof, supported by old wooden trusses that had been darkened by time, contributed to its outstanding acoustics. I am very reliably informed that the ceiling was redone a few years ago, the wooden trusses replaced with metallic ones. Hopefully the acoustics of that magnificent building have survived the modernization.


As in every Roman Catholic Church worship I have attended in different parts of the world, the singing at Rusoorooza guarantees hair-raising melody and harmony. That Christmas worship ten years ago featured some singing and dancing that was as though the congregation had been lent angelic voices and powers that defied gravity. Quite a change from the sombre mood that typified the worship in that cathedral when we were very small boys. It took a long while before the songs of that Christmas worship a decade ago retreated to the deeper recesses of my memory. 


Likewise, during my years in Kampala, I would join my aunt and uncle at Christ The King Church in the city centre. Truth to tell, the singing was my main attraction. The designer of that sanctuary successfully maximised its acoustic offerings, for it is one of the buildings where the details of the singing and the sermons are very easy to hear.


Of course, St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, the great seat of the Anglican Church in Uganda, is an architectural marvel that was one of my favourite places of worship during my years in Kampala. Its sanctuary has a complex design that minimizes echoes, making the sound of hymn singing exquisitely sweet, rich, and uplifting. Namirembe of my time always did justice to the great Anglican hymns by writers like Charles Wesley, John Newton, Augustus Montague Toplady, and Isaac Watts.  A famous 1970s recording of the Namirembe Cathedral Choir remains a masterpiece in musical presentation and sound. 


Space does not allow comment on all the beautiful church buildings in Uganda where I have been privileged to worship. Makerere’s St. Francis Chapel, and Kampala’s All Saints Cathedral at Nakasero enjoy a very special place of honour. However, my most favourite place of worship in Uganda is St. Peter’s Cathedral, Rugarama, Kabaare. It is a church of such deep significance in my life that I should devote an entire column to it one of these days. Suffice to say that the joyful singing, dancing, giving, and hugging of young and old at Rugarama is always uplifting. The sermons and shared prayer time invariably add to my spiritual health and growth. Christmas celebration at Rugarama is a truly blessed experience.


I always get a chuckle out of the uncertain looks of numerous people when we meet at Rugarama, most of whom have no idea who I am, for they were born long after I had left Kabaare. The presiding clergy always welcome us as “visitors”, something that almost always takes a few seconds to sink in. I never see myself as a stranger or visitor on that hill whose history and mine are locked in loving arms that date back several years before I was born.  Of course, I understand the reasons why I am considered a visitor by people who are really my visitors on my hill. 


The sight of old timers with whom we worshipped decades ago, with our shoeless feet gently walking into the old church building that remains etched in my mind as “the church”, is always an added pleasure. Memories of the great preachers of the East African Revival who introduced us to Christ, not just ritualistic religion, always flood back with great emotional impact. One thing I dislike is the surrender of the microphones to secular politicians, whose messages invariably distract the congregation from the very purpose of Christmas and the uplifting messages from the pulpit. Surely the politicians have plenty of time in the year to do their thing. We pray for the day the church will declare the sanctuary a place of equality before the Lord, and a partisan-politics-free environment where all that is preached is God’s Word.


Of course, beautiful church buildings, hymns, preachers, and all that make Christmas and other Sunday worship joyful and memorable do not matter as much as the way we live after the festivities. The Christian life is a year-round affair, not a sporadic sport like soccer or golf. We worship God through daily prayer and purposeful study of His Word; through all our senses that bring us in contact with His awesome creation; and through our work and our lives.  How do we treat others after we have enjoyed Holy Communion? How do we exercise political, judicial, administrative, or other power? How do we handle public funds and property? What would Jesus say to us if we allowed Him to speak to us after we have performed our public duties? Do we speak the truth even when it is inconvenient or risky to do so? 


Here in Canada, this Christmas period has been especially humbling. God unleashed a very powerful snowstorm, complete with high winds, and dangerous freezing rain that paralyzed most of the country. The highways became a drivers’ nightmare, with hundreds of vehicles skidding into ditches. Some people died in accidents. Trains were stuck on dysfunctional tracks, with people trapped in them for more than 24 hours. Hundreds of thousands lost electricity supply. Emergency services were stretched to the limit. Some border points with the United States were closed. It was a national crisis. We stayed indoors, and worshipped the Lord nevertheless.


One was reminded of one’s insignificance in God’s endless universe, unable to understand, let alone control the powerful forces at whose mercy we live. The way I see it, our titles and stations in our man-made order are irrelevant. President or pauper, honourable or honourless, we are all equal before God, and we should act as such. Doing unto others what we would they do unto us is the formula for peace. The Lord taught us to love Him with all our hearts and all our souls, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.  We must say no to injustice, and yes to kindness, fairness, and honest discharge of our responsibilities. May that be our lived reality and practice in 2023. And beyond. God willing.


Our Lady of Good Shepherd Cathedral at Rusoorooza, Kabaare, Kigyezi.

©Muniini K. Mulera


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