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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Cue out:…priest of Arua diocese.”//
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.