Bro. Godfrey Kiryowa was born of a family of Tanzanian origin at Kwawangabi, in the parish of Kasaala, 70 km from Kampala. He did his postulancy at Layibi, where he specialised as a builder. Then he went for his noviciate to Namugongo (2000-2002).
The Uganda province in the year 2001 proposed a new curriculum for the Brothers, namely to assign the newly-professed, who had just finished the noviciate, to a province for their first period of missionary service and for the purpose of making their future studies at the C.I.F. more contextualised. The General Council had approved this proposal ad experimentum, to be eventually evaluated and so to see if applicable also to other provinces/delegations. For this reason Bro. Godfrey was assigned to Kapedo soon after the taking of his first vows. We can already make a first evaluation… In the light of the Paschal mystery, and in the spirit of the Comboni charism, we can say that this experience of his was a very positive one, because it was crowned with the greatest possible honour, that of martyrdom.
Bro. Godfrey was a simple, humble, good and friendly person who made himself available for services. By nature he was rather phlegmatic, so it was natural for him to take things slowly. During his noviciate he had made his pastoral experience at Loyoro, where the confreres, among whom was Fr. Mario Mantovani, appreciated him as a member of the community and for his skill as a builder.
At Kapedo he made himself available for the various chores needed in the mission, like looking after the buildings, generators, going shopping to Kampala and being the elderly Fr. Mario’s driver. On one of his first trips through Karamoja, from Loyoro to Kapedo, he was fired at. On that occasion there were some soldiers with him who, though scared to death, fired back. That was his initiation to Karamoja. When meeting with him in Kampala or in Karamoja, smiling and jokingly he often spoke about the shootings on the roads of Karamoja. He was scared, but he never refused to drive on those roads whenever necessary.
In his last visit to Kapedo, at the end of June, I spoke to Bro. Godfrey. Obviously the discussion soon came around the insecurity on the roads. Fr. Mario Mantovani remarked that the Brother was dramatising the situation, while he himself, when stopped on the road, always managed to get out of trouble by offering tobacco to the raiders. Bro. Godfrey had worked out a theory about the best time to travel from Kapedo to Kotido. To the provincial, who was saying that he preferred to travel late at night, Bro. Godfrey said that, in his opinion, the safest time to travel was during the day, setting off at 9 a.m. so that he would reach the dangerous area of Lobel at 10 a.m., an hour when there was less of a chance of an ambush. Instead on that 14 August, just a bit further ahead of Lobel, at the crossroad to Kotido, the hour of 10.30 a.m. had been fatal to him.
The two confreres, in fact, happened to drive through the Kopoth area after an attempted cattle raid by the Dodoth against the Jie. The Dodoth, humiliated by their unsuccessful attempt, must have given vent to their disappointment by shooting at the first car that happened to pass by. Bro. Godfrey was hit first and died instantly. Fr. Mario tried to run into the bush, but he was soon found and riddled with bullets at 300 m. from the car. The body of Bro. Godfrey was found the following day, early morning of the feast of the Assumption. That of Fr. Mario was found around two in the afternoon of the same day.
When the news of Bro. Godfrey’s death reached Kasaala, the parish of the Brother’s family, the local bishop Mgr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga was celebrating the solemn feast of the Assumption, patron of the parish. He personally informed Bro. Godfrey’s father, an ex catechist, a humble person of deep faith who reacted with great composure and, understanding the difficulty of the situation, he was willing to have his son buried in Karamoja, if the translation of the body would have put in danger the life of other missionaries.
On Saturday, 16 August, at Kanawat, the bishop of Kotido, Mgr. Denis Kiwanuka, celebrated a funeral Mass for the two deceased Comboni Missionaries, with the participation of Comboni Missionaries from that area and of Fr. Giuseppe Valente, who had been Bro. Godfrey’s novice master. While the body of Fr. Mario was buried next to the church of Kanawat, that of Bro. Godfrey was taken to Kasaala.
At the celebration in Kasaala the following day, 17 August, meaningful was the presence of a number of Comboni Brothers working in Uganda. A large congregation participated in the Mass with great emotion. Many students of the technical and secondary school which Bro. Godfrey attended took part in the service, they too overcome with emotion. Our Comboni novices carried the coffin from the church to the graveyard. He was buried next to the two Missionaries for Africa (White Fathers) who had founded and worked for a number of years in Kasaala. The faith and serenity of Bro. Godfrey’s father, with a meek smile on his face, was a great sign of evangelical witness, showing the power of the Gospel in transforming the human heart.
The blood shed in Karamoja by Bro. Godfrey as a Comboni Missionary becomes a strong symbol of the fruitfulness of the Comboni charism in Africa. In the case of Bro. Godfrey we can say that the Comboni charism has truly being inculturated. Let us hope and pray that his sacrifice may be a prayer of intercession that God may inspire many Comboni missionary vocations in Uganda, especially to the Brotherhood, and a fruitful seed for the Christian transformation of the Karimojong society, so hostile to change. (Fr. Guido Oliana)