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Albert Edward Baharagate: 53 Years Of Episcopal Journey

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Fifty-three years after being consecrated a bishop, Dr Albert Edward Baharagate Akiiki has vivid memories of the day as if it happened yesterday and wishes to relive it if there was a chance. Baharagate is the Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Hoima. He was one of the 12 bishops who were consecrated on August 1, 1969 by Pope Paul VI during a colourful ceremony at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds.
Dr Albert Edward Baharagate Akiiki, Emeritus Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hoima

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Fifty-three years after being consecrated a bishop, Dr Albert Edward Baharagate Akiiki has vivid memories of the day as if it happened yesterday and wishes to relive it if there was a chance. 

Baharagate is the Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Hoima. He was one of the 12 bishops who were consecrated on August 1, 1969 by Pope Paul VI during a colourful ceremony at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds.  

Fifty-three years later, a Uganda Radio Network reporter has had a chat with the retired Bishop, now aged 92. The prelate narrated the events with a smile and couldn’t resist cheering a little before he boasted of being lucky to have been among 12 who claimed a special place in the history of the first papal visit to the African continent. 

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Of the 12 bishops consecrated that day, four were from Uganda, including Barnabas Halem’Imana, Bishop of Kabale; Sarapio Bwemi Magambo, Auxiliary Bishop of Fort Portal; John Baptist Kakubi, Bishop of Mbarara; and Baharagate of Hoima. Besides the four from Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria had two bishops each. Cameroon, Zambia, Gabon and Burkina Faso produced one bishop each.  

Currently only two out of the 12 are still live, Baharagate and the former Archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, Emmanuel Milingo who was ex-communicated and reduced to lay status in 2009 for going against church doctrines. 

The Homily

During their consecration, Pope Paul VI forewarned them that their new task was set upon their shoulders the weight of numberless duties, responsibilities and of sorrows. 

The Pope sent them to found and build a local Church with a native character of its African-ness. He asked the new bishops to seek out and evangelize new Christians, something he called a great task fraught with difficulties and demanding self-denial, courage, constancy, wisdom and sacrifice. 

Pope Paul VI cautioned them to accept to work in poverty, and often against opposition, but to open their hearts to the children, to youth, to the poor, and to all who suffer. He said that by the very nature of their episcopal ministry, they had to build and support civil society, while remaining “free from political engagements and temporal interests.”  

Humble journey to Episcopal duties  

In fact, as the Pope had said, Bishop Baharagate, who was later installed as the Bishop of Hoima on October 5, 1969, set off from an uncertain, complicated, and unstable start, which was defined by Uganda's political, economic, and social upheavals. 

Hoima Diocese had been created in 1965 with Cipriano Kihangire as its first Bishop. As Hoima was breaking away from Fort Portal Diocese, a young priest named Albert Edward Baharagate was due to travel to Rome, Italy to commence his doctoral studies. He had been ordained into priesthood seven years earlier, in December 1958 and was, among other duties, a Mathematics teacher at St. Leo’s College, Kyegobe. 

Within two years of the founding of Hoima Diocese, Bishop Kihanhire was transferred to Gulu leaving the new diocese in the hands of a Diocesan Administrator and without a substantive bishop. 

In May 1969, Father Baharagate returned from his studies in Rome and reported to his superior, a fellow priest who was the Administrator of Hoima Diocese. In his mind was an assignment as a parish priest but Vatican had different ideas for, in early July 1969, he received the news of his appointment as the new Bishop of Hoima Diocese.  

Bishop Baharagate remembers the state of the diocese at the time. “It was a fresh garden that needed to be ploughed before any harvest.” 

Baharagate says although the diocese had some financial resources, it lacked the manpower to effectively run it. For instance, records show that at the time the diocese had only 7 parishes with 15 permanent priests and a few religious men and women.  

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In order to have more priests who would go out and win souls and bring the church closer to the faithful in their communities, the bishop considered strengthening the minor seminary to prepare future priests. St. John Bosco Minor Seminary had been opened up in 1967 with some 17 students.  

But since this was a long-term plan, the bishop decided to ask neighbouring dioceses for assistance, enlisting a few mission societies and religious organizations to assist manage social service projects like supporting hospitals and schools, among other things.  

With a few priests, Baharagate says he ensured that the lay apostolate get involved in nearly everything which later made the development of the diocese and evangelization easy.  

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His approach led to the introduction and growth of the Lay Apostolic Commission which promoted the activities of Catholic Action, Uganda Kolping Society, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and many other associations and movements.  

Baharagate says his first years went with several challenges as he always found resistance from some priests and the laity who judged every action and step he took. Although he could not control the faithful action, he chose to tighten the grip on priests using skills he had learnt during his four years in Rome as a student of Canon Law.  

“I can proudly state that my tenure did not suffer disobedience from the clergy,” he noted, adding that he always advised his priests on several issues trying to ensure that they remain on the right path and not be tempted.   For instance, taking the example of his parents who had refused him to drink beer, he also advised priests on the same to reduce the risk of falling into temptation after a sip.

He further notes that during his tenure, they had formed an unwritten norm where no priest was expected to move at night all in the name of managing and keeping a good picture of the priesthood. 

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With slim manpower, the bishop says he ensured that his priests got additional training depending on the needs of the diocese, and he did this by sending many to have further studies in European universities. Many went to Rome for their studies.  

He notes that those who were into economics helped much to ensure that the diocese was financially stable by setting up several ventures that saw the diocese become self-sustaining and later support the cardinal role of evangelization.  

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Early retirement  

After 22 years at the helm of Hoima, Baharagate could not take on the leadership any longer although he had 14 years before hitting the mandatory retirement age. During the interview, he noted that he had done his part and wanted another person to continue. He retired in 1991 at the age of 61. According to the Canon Law, the retirement age for a Catholic bishop is 75 years.  

Alifunsi Tugwezire, who has lived with, and supported, Bishop Baharagate for 41 years, says that at the time of his retirement the bishop had ill health as he was suffering from hypertension and diabetes which had weakened him.  

Luganda bite 

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Tugwezire adds that with time the bishop started receiving special treatment from abroad which helped him to slowly recover. Baharagate has spent more years in retirement than at the helm of the Hoima diocese. He was Bishop of Hoima for 22 years but has spent 31 years as a retired Bishop.   

In 1990, after accepting Baharagate’s request to retire, the Pope appointed Deogratias Muganwa Byabazaire as Coadjutor Bishop, or bishop in waiting, of Hoima. Bishop Byabazaire eventually took charge of the diocese in March 1991, going on to serve until his death in February 2014. In November 2015 Pope Francis appointed Vincent Kirabo Amooti, then a lecturer at Ggaba National Seminary, as Bishop of Hoima Diocese.   

When Baharagate announced his retirement, the diocese rushed to prepare for him a retirement home in Masindi given the fact that every diocese is responsible for contributing to the living expenses of its retired bishops. However, due to financial constraints, they failed to take off but the bishop chose to retire from Kampala and was hosted at Our Lady of Fatima, Nakulabye Parish where he lived for over 30 years.  

He says that he chose to retire outside his diocese due to many reasons, among which was to ensure that his successor was not in his shadow.   He nonetheless kept making pastoral visits to different Hoima parishes with permission from the reigning bishop.

Additionally, the retired bishop says he could once in a while be asked to assist the new bishop with episcopal tasks like giving children their confirmation, among others.  

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Baharagate has been a Bishop for 53 years and a priest for 63 years.   

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