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Father Lazarus Ejoyi and His Bumpy Priesthood

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For almost 30 years, Lazarus Ijoyi, also known as Ejoyi, has been a Catholic priest in Arua Diocese. But the past seven years have been anything but smooth for Father Ejoyi. Without a parish to call home, he's received letters of transfer, police summons, suspension, eviction notices, assault by a fellow priest and forceful eviction from a church house. URN revisits his bumpy journey.
Fr. Lazarus Ijoyi stressing a point during the interview with URN in Arua.

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  When a group of four Catholic priests is seen walking into a room, one would be forgiven to think Holy Mass is next on the agenda.

  But it was a different expectation on May 13, at the Chief Magistrates Court in Arua, when four priests from Arua Diocese walked in. It was a case of assault filed by one priest against another priest.

  The complainant was Reverend Father Lazarus Ijoyi, also known as Ejoyi, whose name has been in the news for a better part of the past 10 years. The accused was Monsignor Kasto Adeti, the Vicar General of Arua Diocese. The other two men of the collar were Father Sabino Diku and Father Nobert Azale, who had come to stand surety for the Vicar General.

  Before Chief Magistrate Daniel Lubowa, Monsignor Adeti was granted a non-cash bail of 20 million Shillings while his two sureties were bonded at 15 million Shillings each, not cash.

  The Prosecution side submits that Monsignor Adeti assaulted Father Ejoyi with a wooden stick, and broke his right arm during an incident in the Parish priest’s residence at Ediofe Cathedral on April 29, 2020. Hearing of the case starts on June 15, 2020.

  Earlier, Father Ejoyi had narrated what transpired on April 29: “I was here talking on phone and he came threatening me that I should not talk. I ignored him. He went back to his room as I continued to talk and then returned with his walking stick. He hit me three times at my bottom.”

  While Monsignor Adeti pleads not guilty to the case, he had earlier told the media he acted out of emotion after Father Ejoyi insulted him. He explained that on the day the incident happened, he was in his room and heard Father Ejoyi telling someone in a telephone conversation that “even one of those tormenting me is here in his room.”

  “When I heard this I came out, picked a stick and confronted Father Ejoyi out of anger. I gave him several lashes on the thigh just to stop him from continuing to tell lies and insulting us. My intention was not to hurt him,” Monsignor Adeti said.

  Courting controversy

  With orthopedic cast around his right arm, Father Lazarus Ejoyi passes for any ordinary person around. If you don’t know him, there’s very little to show that he’s been a priest in the Catholic Church for three decades.

  The cast is the result of that physical fight with, or assault by, Monsignor Adeti. With eye spectacles on, the 62-year-old priest dresses simply, this time in blue T-shirt. If one is keen enough, however, the portrait on Father Ejoyi’s T-shirt is unmistakable. It’s that of the late Frederick Drandua who served as Bishop of Arua Diocese from 1986 to 2009. Bishop Drandua died in 2016. It was Drandua who ordained Ejoyi into priesthood in October 1990.

  It would appear Father Ejoyi did not transition from Drandua’s episcopate when it ended in August 2009 and a new one started in October 2010 when Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki took over. By 2013, Father Ejoyi’s relationship with Bishop Odoki had broken down with the former being seen as the face of ‘opposition’ to the latter’s administration. In May of that year, the bishop removed Father Ejoyi from Kijomoro where he was a Parish Priest. The now controversial priest found himself without a parish and with no specific assignment.

  The Bishop is said to have asked Father Ejoyi to “look around for a parish that would accommodate him.’ He ended up at Ediofe Parish where Father Celestine Onzima, then a Parish Priest, was willing to host him. Ediofe Cathedral, the seat of Arua Diocese, is part of Ediofe Parish.

  One might say Father Ejoyi had come too close to the centre of power, the same power he was accused of challenging and disobeying. When in 2016 Father Onzima was transferred to Lodonga Parish in Yumbe District, Ejoyi found himself with Monsignor Adeti and the two developed a bad working relationship.

  Insubordination

  The office of the Bishop has repeatedly explained that Father Ejoyi’s stay at Ediofe Cathedral Parish is illegal. The Bishop accuses his priest of refusing to take up appointment in Vurra Catholic parish, something Father Ejoyi denies. He, however, admits receiving a letter of transfer “through third parties.”

  Monsignor Adeti, the man Father Ejoyi accuses of assault, has always said the latter disobeys and disrespects the bishop’s authority. The Vicar General says Father Ejoyi has been asked, since 2013, to leave Ediofe Parish and go to Vurra Parish in vain. Is it a case of insubordination or systemic injustice against one man?

  Canon 273 of the Catholic Church obligates priests to show reverence and obedience to the Pope and to their own bishop. Canon 274 (2) further emphasises this by stipulating that clerics are bound to accept and faithfully fulfill the assignment or office committed to them by their bishop.

  Father Ejoyi says that on May 21, 2013, he went to see the Bishop. While there, he was shocked when Bishop Odoki that he had been replaced as Kijomoro Parish Priest and that the Bishop and his advisors had found nowhere to post Ejoyi. He ended up at Ediofe Cathedral Parish where he met what he describes as a “challenging life.”

  Bumpy ride

  Father Ejoyi’s stay at Ediofe has been anything but smooth. It’s been seven years of letters of transfer, police summons, suspension, eviction notices, assault by the Vicar General and forceful eviction supervised by the Bishop.

  Early this month, just over a week after the assault incident, a team of Ediofe Parish pastoral councilors evicted Father Ejoyi. Photographs circulated in the media of a Fuso Lorry packed in the Presbytery and people loading items onto it. Father Ejoyi, right arm still in cast, is seen standing next to the lorry. A few metres away, Bishop Odoki is seen standing and surrounded by nuns, all watching the eviction exercise. At this same place, on April 29, Father Ejoyi sustained a broken arm in a fight.

  The lorry was driven to Ombaci Nile University campus, where Father Ejoyi has been working as a part-time lecturer.

  In 2018, Father Ejoyi was among four priests who received police summons after Bishop Odoki accused them of mobilising the masses to attack him. Monsignor Adeti told the media then that the four priests had strayed from the Christian doctrine and their behaviour forced the church to suspend their priestly activities. The other three were Ceaser Dralega, Valentino Matua and Nakar Adiga.

  In 2017, Father Ejoyi was locked out of his room and asked to leave Ediofe Parish on grounds that the Parish could not afford to feed him. This was after he was transferred to Vurra Parish, but refused.

  In November 2016, Ediofe Parish council had written a letter expelling Father Ejoyi from the parish on grounds that the church lacked resources to maintain him. The council asked the embattled priest to vacate the parish premises within two weeks.

  The November 14 letter was signed by Luciano Aria, the parish council moderator, who argued that the parish could no longer cater for Father Ejoyi’s welfare. “Under minute number 19/10/2016, the council finally resolved that, you should be served with a letter to inform you to kindly try another community for your personal maintenance. The council therefore regrets that it is only capable of maintaining the few priests that it has,” Aria said in the letter.

  Suspension

  On November 18, 2017, while he was leading Mass at Ediofe Cathedral Parish, Fr. Ejoyi says Monsignor Adeti stood up and read a letter of suspension to Christians. Ejoyi says he had not received the said letter himself and that he first heard about it when it was read in church.

  The Bishop’s office is said to have sent the suspension letter to the Post Office using the address of Ediofe Parish. “I was brought a letter from Arua Post Office by the post master who told me he was instructed to deliver it to me,” said Father Ejoyi. He says he declined to receive the letter and instead told the post master to go back with it. The suspension, according to Fr. Ejoyi is for three years and extends up to December 3, 2020.

  It would appear Monsignor Adeti was exercising his authority given to him by the bishop to merely communicate the bishop’s message to Father Ejoyi. And on paper, failure by Father Ejoyi to, either move to Vurra Parish or vacate Ediofe Parish, tantamount to disobedience.

  Survival

  Among the items pulled out of Father Ejoyi’s residence at Ediofe on the day of eviction were jerrycans of wine. He has been making wine, not for holy communion, but to earn a living. “While I was at Kijomoro Parish, I was taught by a fellow priest how to make wine from tangerine and sell it to get money,” narrates Fr. Ejoyi.

  He adds: “I would spend all the little money I get on buying more tangerine which I would brew in one of my rooms and when ready I give it to one Catholic Women’s Association member who would always sell it for me and deposit the money in a SACCO at Pokea.”

  Fr. Ejoyi adds that all the priests knew that he was making wine which he would sell to earn some money in addition to the little he would get from lecturing at Nile University.

  According to him, a 40-litre jerrycan of tangerine wine goes for between 30,000 and 50,000 Uganda Shillings.

  Long journey to the pulpit 

Born on November 1, 1958 in the present-day Obongi District, Father Lazarus Ejoyi was nicknamed Lizoro, a name of an Italian missionary priest, Lizoro Rugeri. It’s Father Rugeri who baptized the young Ejoyi in 1960.

  Ejoyi went to Liwa primary school in Obongi between 1971 and 1976 where he completed primary six. In 1977 he joined Pokea Minor Seminary where he completed Primary Seven. He was later recruited by Father Silvio Sherry, a Comboni Missionary priest following his excellent performance.

The 1979 war that toppled President Idi Amin briefly halted Ejoyi’s journey at school while he was in Senior Two. He says all children were sent home as the 1979 war advanced towards West Nile after the fall of Kampala in April 1979. He was forced to move to Maracha county (now Maracha district) to live with his uncles until 1982 when he joined Alokolum National Major Seminary. He was at Alokolum until 1985. He later joined National Major Seminary Ggaba where he completed his priestly formation studies in 1989.

Ordination

In December 1989, Bishop Frederick Drandua ordained Lazarus Ejoyi a deacon at Ediofe Cathedral in the middle of his final year at Ggaba. He was later sent for Pastoral work at Otumbari Parish in the current Terego County, where he worked for one year.

On October 20, 1990 Deacon Ejoyi was ordained a Priest by Bishop Drandua in what the 62-year-old says was a celebration to remember.

He went on to serve as Parish priest at Pakele Parish in Adjumani district and also Dean of Adjumani Deanery.

In 1992, he was transferred to Ocodri as Parish Priest where he worked for five years. In 1995, Fr. Ejoyi decided to seek permission to go for a professional diploma course in teacher Education at Muni National Teachers’ College. He completed the course in 1997, the same year he became Chaplain at Adumi secondary school.

After only six months at Adumi, Ejoyi was transferred to Sts Peter and Paul Pokea Minor Seminary where he worked for 12 years as a Lecturer. At the same time he served as Chaplain at Muni Girls secondary school.

Between 1998 and 2001, Father Ejoyi found time to go back to school to pursue a degree course in Education at Kyambogo University. In 2003 he came back to Pokea Minor Seminary to serve as Dean of Studies until 2005 when he went back to Kyambogo for a Masters’ degree in History, a course he completed in 2013.

In 2009, after the resignation of Bishop Drandua, then Auxiliary Bishop of Gulu, Sabino Ocan Odoki, became Apostolic Administrator of Arua Diocese. In 2010, Bishop Odoki was confirmed and ordained as Bishop of Arua. In 2011, while Father Ejoyi was still at Pokea Seminary, Bishop Odoki appointed him to head Kijomoro Sub Parish in the current Maracha district.

It is from Kijomoro that he was he was asked to vacate by the same bishop in 2013 but without being given another parish or any specific assignment. A new chapter had opened, a chapter that seems to have shaped the past seven years in much the same way it has redefined his 30-year journey in priesthood.

Asked about his next move after being evicted, Father Ejoyi says he will go and stay at any other parish of his choice and continue living priestly life as he pursues the case of causing grievous harm to him by Monsignor Kasto Adeti.

//Cue in: “It’s a very difficult.…

Cue out:…priest of Arua diocese.”//

Other voices

Father Pius Yobuta, the chairman Arua diocesan Priests Association, says they do not work using the Media but handle their own issues quietly. Father Yobuta told URN that the association knows what to do for cases involving priests and that it’s a matter of time before the issue is handled.

“What I can tell you is that the Association is doing something about this issue but we are not going to go to the media to do it,” said Fr. Yobuta.

He added: “What we are advocating for is brotherhood and unity for all people of God without discrimination. We must remain one even if there are issues, they will come to an end given time.”

Bishop Odoki has, however, always maintained that priests who do not exhibit the vows of Obedience to their Bishop will be suspended from the Ministry of the church until they reform.    

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