Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Waliggo, John Mary

Catholic Church

John Mary Waliggo was born in a large family of eighteen uncles and aunts on July 18, 1942, at Villa Maria in the Masaka district of Uganda to Mr. Kiwanuka Kabirinange Bajjabegonza and Mrs. Martha Lwandago Nabatanzi. His grandparents were named Ggubya and Mukambwe. He was the last to be born into a family of seven children, with three boys and four girls. The family grew to nine children when two more were adopted. His parents, and especially his mother, were zealous and committed Catholics. Together with his maternal grandmother, Veronika Munakutanyiga, they gave him a balanced education in human, cultural, and religious values.

In 1950, Waliggo was taken to Villa Maria Primary School to start his primary education and he remained there until 1956. In 1957, he entered Bukalasa Minor Seminary for his secondary education, completing it in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, he studied philosophy at Katigondo National Major Seminary, and from 1966 to 1970, he studied theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, where he was exposed to the international community. It was in Rome that his leadership qualities and his sense of love for the unity of humanity led him to become the secretary of Omnes Gentes. In 1969, he became president of the student union and of the pontifical universities in Rome. During this period of time, his understanding of African theology developed, along with a strong pan-African sensibility. He completed his studies in 1970, receiving a licentiate in theology. He returned to Uganda, and was ordained in August of 1970 by Bishop Ddungu at Bisanje, Masaka Diocese. Soon after ordination he was sent to Cambridge University in England, where he obtained a doctorate in history in 1976, returning to Uganda in 1977. Earlier, from 1972 to 1974, he taught church history at Katigondo National Seminary.

After his return, he served in various parishes, namely Butende, Bethlehem and Kabuwo, all the while teaching church history at Katigondo National Major Seminary and at the Protestant Theological College in Mukono. He went into a short period of exile on the Ssesse Islands in 1977 and into a long exile in Kenya from 1983 to 1987, after having condemned human rights abuses in his country. During his exile in Kenya, he taught at the Catholic High Institute of Eastern Africa (CHIEA), where he headed the department of church history. He also founded the Quarterly Theological Journal of African Christian Studies and acted as its editor for some time. In addition, he founded the CHIEA theological education by extension program for people who lived around Nairobi. In December of 1987, he returned to Uganda.

In 1989 he was appointed commissioner of the Uganda Constitutional Commission, becoming general secretary in 1990. He worked hard to have the draft of the constitution completed and debated in the Constitutional Assembly in 1993. From 1994 to January of 2001, he was the chairperson of the Uganda National Diocesan Priests Association (UNDIPA), and he also served as a member of the Uganda Bible Society. At the time of his death, he was working for the Uganda Catholic Secretariat on the Justice and Peace Commission. He was also teaching history at Nkozi Catholic University, and he was the Uganda Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, he chaired the Uganda Media Council, and founded CACISA, the Centre for African Christian Studies. The journal Horizont 3000 recognized his work on justice, peace, human rights, development, and democracy, and awarded him the Continental Award in Vienna on May 10, 2000. The Missiological Institute, Missio Aachen, recognized him as one of the 100 leading theologians in the world. Having completed thirty-eight years in the priesthood and more than forty years of academic life and dedicated service to humanity, he died on April 19, 2008. He was buried in the cemetery of Bukalasa Minor Seminary on April 24, 2008. A very large crowd was in attendance, and some said that they felt they had buried an ancestor. [1]

His Vision and Program

In a letter he sent to his nephew in Rome, in 2002, he explained how he had learned to write out a “long vision” and program for his life, and how he checked off the goals as he reached them. Toward the end of his life, he had only reached about one third of his goals, but thought it was far better to have more goals than one could achieve, than to not have a program for his life. [2]

His Legacy

Waliggo believed that people should be liberated. For him, liberation “is the total freeing of humankind from enslavement and obstacles to full self-realization in the ten vital human dimensions: spiritual, religious, moral, mental, cultural, economic, political, physical, social, and personal.” [3]

He wanted the human person to be liberated holistically. He rejected any form of dualism and dichotomy, believing that people had to be liberated according to their nature as complex beings at the physical, spiritual, and supernatural levels. This also called for holistic evangelization, in which every dimension of the human person has to be evangelized. All aspects of society and all peoples were to be evangelized as well, without discrimination. As a researcher, Waliggo was able to pioneer many projects, but his great achievements were in the articulation of his ideas, and in the development of a vision for the church and the nation in the area of holistic development.

Waliggo loved peace and he worked hard to make all Ugandans and Africans understand that it was not only a gift and a duty, but also a human right. He loved justice and human rights and spent a lot of his time developing these themes and giving papers on these issues. When he died, the local newspapers reported that an icon of peace and human rights had passed away. His efforts led to the development of the current Ugandan constitution, which can truly be credited specifically to his work. He can also be credited with the establishment of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the emancipation of women in Uganda, and the protection of children, people with disabilities, and marginalized communities. [4]

Holistic liberation demanded that he develop a love of the environment. He developed a good ecological theology by combining the African and the Christian worldview regarding responsibility for the natural environment. He encouraged people to plant trees and to preserve the natural African “pharmacy.” He developed the concept of the right to a clean and healthy environment and wrote:

In our study of theology, especially the theology of creation, we have not yet reached the stage of seeing the entire cosmos and environment as part and parcel of the human person. The theology of stewardship of the goods of this earth is still weak. We often regard environmental matters as secular issues, which have little to do with our theology and Christian leadership. Are we right? [5]

Waliggo abhorred the suffering that existed in Africa, and called for an integral form of evangelization that would create free and mature Christians who would act out of conviction and maturity in order to bring about holistic liberation after the model of Jesus Christ. [6]

He was able to read the signs of the times with a universal perspective. He had a reflective and intuitive mind, and was always ready to reflect on situations in order to evaluate them and to find lasting solutions. Whenever a situation arose, he had already tried to ask the pertinent questions about what needed to be done. In so doing, he helped the church and state in Uganda to be more open and accommodating, for he was a very active priest and citizen, and was involved in the affairs of the church and the nation. He developed the major pastoral letters of the Uganda Episcopal Conference. [7]

John Mary Waliggo loved his culture, his clan, and his family. He was actively engaged in African culture and used it as a basis for service to the church and the nation. He also used African culture to develop his vision of both church and state using his rich cultural heritage and wisdom from his culture, clan and family.[7a] He fully developed the concept of inculturation and gave courses on it to laity and clergy, defining it as:

The honest and serious attempt to make Christ and his message of salvation evermore understood by peoples of every culture, locality and time. It means the reformulation of the Christian life and doctrine into the very thought patterns of each people. It is the conviction that Christ and his Good News are even dynamic and changing to all times and cultures as they become better understood and lived by each people. It is the continuous endeavor to make Christianity truly “feel at home” in the cultures of each people. [8]

He thought that it was a vital process for the church, and that it was crucial to the ownership, permanence and relevance of Christianity anywhere.

His purity of heart could be seen in his dedication to the good of all, especially the marginalized, the defenseless and the victimized. He spent a lot of time and resources helping many needy people to be successful, self-realized, and fulfilled. He struggled to ensure that the image of God in everyone would not be tarnished, and wanted to enable people to live as true children of God. His enemies may have hated him for his political affiliations, but none of them doubted his great love and capacity to help those in need. By the time of his death, he had educated over twenty-two catholic priests, several religious men and women, and many lay people. He paid the medical bills for all the elderly in his village and he supported many elderly priests. [9]

Waliggo was one of the greatest promoters of the emancipation of women in Ugandan history. He wrote a book entitled Struggle for Equality: Women and Emancipation in Uganda. He worked to empower women in their struggle for justice, equal rights, and opportunities in the affairs of their nation and their church. [10] He struggled for the rights of the marginalized, the oppressed, the defenseless, and the internally displaced. He thought that in Africa in particular, there was a need to liberate women and children from oppressive cultural practices. If nothing was done in that area, there would be a real crisis in the church. [11]

Many children in Africa are denied basic education, rest, leisure time, and play because of the prevalence of child labor. He fought violence against children in its many forms: rape, segregation, xenophobia, and child labor. He called upon the church and state to ensure that children would be guaranteed certain rights: an adequate standard of living, food, clothing, shelter, and access to health care. He fought against abortion, which was becoming common due to disoriented and unethical population control programs, and taught that children must be given the chance to develop physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. [12]

Waliggo was fully aware that in Africa as well as in the globalized world, many people and many religions must live together. He was convinced of the need to learn to live together and to understand each other primarily as children of the same God, all being in the same human family, and having a common destiny. He lamented the weakness of the ecumenical movement in Africa and the near absence of religious dialogue. [13]

He expected good governance in both church and state, which explains his interest in political affairs. He called for adequate training of leaders and worked for democracy in both institutions, having developed a “theology of democracy.” [14]

Waliggo loved the church and the priesthood, and was convinced that deep love for God, the church, and the priesthood would lead to serious commitment to a life of service. Profound love would help one make the sacrifices that were necessary for the development of vision and ideas that would in turn lead to a crucial liberation of the mind. At his silver jubilee he said in Luganda:

Twasalawo ne bannange, emyaka giyise mingiko nti tweyagarire mu bwa faaza, tulage abantu bonna nti buwooma, tetusaana kubeeramu nga abalimu olwempaka, tulye embaga, tuselebratinge, tugambe nti we tuli tumaanyiwo era walungi. Ebizibu byamu tubikweke, tubirinyirire tugenda nga tubijjawo. (We decide to enjoy the priesthood, to show others that priesthood is wonderful. We should not live it as if we were forced into it. We know where we are and we are sure it is beautiful to be there. That is the reason why we must celebrate; we push down the difficulties of the priesthood, trample them underfoot and gradually seek to overcome them). [15]

Waliggo called for authentic African theologies which could provide a way of understanding faith and of creating principles on which African Christian identity could be constructed. This needed to be a theology that could develop good models and a new language for expressing the Christian faith intelligibly. Such models would help to produce meaningful Bible translations into the local languages, ensuring an African Bible-centered faith and a relevant application of universal canon law. All of this called for theological research, and for the training and education of true African theologians. [16] Waliggo was convinced that if the church had the right vision, an ethos of living out the solidarity that is demanded of the children of God, and submitted her priorities to the light of the gospel, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then Africa would overcome much of her suffering. Africans would be saved holistically and would live with the dignity that the Creator wishes for all who are made in his image.

Waliggo had an open mind that delved into every field of study for the good of the church and of society. As an intellectual and a keen researcher, he loved knowledge and the people who loved knowledge. He sought to support students and even sponsored scholarship, hoping that Africa would generate her own knowledge and contribution to the world. He disliked the narrow-mindedness, shallowness and ignorance that often led to fundamentalism, bigotry, fanaticism, despotism, cruelty, and violence.

In order to promote the study of African Christianity and culture, he and a few other intellectuals founded the Center for African Christian Studies (CACISA) with the vision and mandate of having a fully liberated and fully inculturated Christianity. The ultimate aim of the center is to promote liberation and inculturation through the active participation of professionals, scholars, Christian leaders and politicians. Topics such as good governance and democracy, peace, conflict resolution and reconciliation, gender issues, good leadership, ecumenical study, and constitutional inculturation are studied there. CACISA aims to critically engage leaders and citizens in order to holistically transform society, and the vulnerable in particular, through Christian and African values. The center is a facility that provides a research and educational framework for the promotion of the critical engagement of society in religious, socio-economic, and political issues in view of liberation and inculturation.

Waliggo was also a brave and prophetic man. He believed that prophetic witness was an essential part of the Christian mission and of being the church. He always said that when the church ceases to be prophetic, it ceases to be itself and largely abandons its mission. If it is not prophetic, it risks succumbing to the status quo and quietly condoning evil. He was not afraid to speak his mind and to denounce evils in both church and state. He was fearless and uncompromising in the exercise of his prophetic witness, and willing to accept the consequences of his actions. He wrote: “One cannot imagine a church today without active prophetic witness. It is such witness that will show the love and care of church leaders and of the church as a whole, for the suffering and the oppressed of this continent. It is through such witness that human solidarity can be promoted for the transformation of this world.” [17]

He courageously spoke out against the atrocities of Idi Amin while in exile, and denounced the abuse of human rights by the Obote II regime, for which he suffered a second exile. He constantly denounced all human rights abuses and fought for the freedom of the press, encouraging it to denounce all atrocities truthfully.

Waliggo loved Uganda and Africa, and dreamed of a God-fearing country where everyone would be free and feel at home. [18] He listed the following eleven points as goals and ideals for his country: Uganda as a God-loving and God-fearing nation, true patriotism, criticism that leads to improvement for others, respect of the sovereignty of the people, holistic development, a country with a strong culture of peace and civilization based on legality and non-violence, openness to positive globalization, openness to wider solidarity, prioritization of children, concern for national security, a nation that remembers and forgives. [19]

In essence, he was a gifted, principled man who had a deep love for God, for the church and for all people. Here is another quote from a letter to his nephew: “A few of us should forget having big cars, big houses, big everything, and concentrate on the development of ideas, thought, and vision for our church and for society. This will make a real difference. We need very deep love for our church, deep love for Africa, and deep love for Uganda to be able to do so.” [20] His creed could be summarized as the belief in the liberation of all people in Jesus Christ. He loved justice and hated evil, and his basic goal in life was to work for justice and liberation in a spirit of total freedom in Jesus Christ. This man of incredible energy, courage, and bravery lived his life fruitfully and selflessly as a committed citizen and as a dedicated priest and theologian in the service of God, the church, his nation, and mankind. May his life inspire many people to work for humanity and to build the kingdom of God.

Benedict Ssettuuma


  1. Benedict Ssettuuma, The Thief on The Plane, (Kampala: Angel Agencies, 2009), 105-110.

  2. Ibid, 90-91. The text of the letter and “program” are included in their original form below, after the notes, as an addendum.

  3. John Mary Waliggo, “The Struggle for Liberation: A Challenge to Christianity,” manuscript, p.1. Also quoted by Professor Anthony Bellagamba, “Response to the Paper of Rev. Dr. Laurenti Magesa,” in L. Namwera et al. (eds), Towards African Christian Liberation, (Nairobi: St. Paul Publications, 1990), 66, 1-7.

  4. Cf. Benedict Ssettuuma, Inculturation as Liberation in the Writings of John Mary Waliggo, (Rome: Liberit, 2005), 1-290. See also The Thief on the Plane, 57-62; Waliggo, “Peace, the New Name of Development,” (lecture at Aga Khan School, Kampala, 26th Febuary, 2000), 1-2, unpublished manuscript; Waliggo, “The Religious Leaders’ Response to Violence,” AFER 43 (Aug.-Oct. 2001), 186.

  5. Waliggo, “The Mission of Human Rights Protection and Promotion as a Moral and Ethical Challenge to Students of Philosophy/Theology and Christian Leaders,” 20, unpublished manuscript.

  6. ——-, “African Christology in a Situation of Suffering,” in Faces of Jesus in Africa, ed. Robert Schreiter, (New York: Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1991), 171. See also Waliggo, “Christianity and Liberation in Africa”, in Towards African Christian Liberation, Leonard Namwera et al, eds. (Nairobi: Paulines, 1990), 45.

  7. Ssettuuma, “John Mary Waliggo: True African Theologian,” in The Waliggo Vol 1\1, 4-25.

7a. Cf. Peter Kanyandago, John Mary Waliggo: “The Theology of John Mary Waliggo,” in Benezet Bujo and Juvenal Ilunga Muya (eds), African Theology: The Contribution of the Pioneers Vol 2. (Nairobi: Paulines, 2006), 218-219.

  1. John Mary Waliggo, “Making the Church that is Truly African,” 12.

  2. Ssettuuma, Communications With My Uncle Fr. John Mary Waliggo, Letters, 1-45.

  3. Waliggo, “The Religious Leaders and their Response to Violence,” 179-188.

  4. ——–, “The Challenges of Contemporary Africa to the Religious Women,” 12.

  5. ——–, “The Rights and Duties of Children, Teachers, School Managers” (Paper given at the Teachers’ Summit View Kyengera S.S.S. July 31, 1999, 1-3. Unpublished.

  6. ——–, “The Challenges,” [cf. note 11], 11.

  7. ——–, “The Role of the Christian Churches in the Democratization of Africa,” 60-65.

  8. ——–, Speech at Priestly Silver Jubilee, Bisanje, on August 26, 1995.

  9. ——–, “Analyzing the Church in Africa,” 6-7; Waliggo, “History and Development of African Theologies and How to Teach Them in Major Seminaries,”10-16. [??]

  10. ——–, A Man of Vision: Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka, (Kisubi: Marianum Press, 1991), 27.

  11. ——–, “The Uganda We Want,” 7. Traditional society has a lot to offer in this regard. The task is simply to help people extend the patriotism they give to a kingdom, chiefdom, tribe or clan to a wider brotherhood of the nation. This should eventually lead to a greater brotherhood that embraces the entire human family of God.

  12. ——–, “The Uganda We Want,” 7.

  13. Cf. Ssettuuma, The Thief. [no page given]

Select list of works by John Mary Waliggo:

Waliggo, John Mary, The Catholic Church in Buddu Province of Uganda 1879-1925. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

——, Okwabya Olumbe Lw’Omukristu (Inculturated Final Rites). Kisubi: Kisubi Marianum Press, 1982. (In this work he worked together with Peter Wasswa Mpagi).

——, Lamentations from a Forgotten People: Uganda. Brussels: Pro Mundi Vitae Publications, 1984.

——, Education for Justice and Peace. Kampala: St. Paul Publications, 1984.

——, A History of African Priests. Nairobi: Marianum Press, 1987.

——, A Man of Vision: Archbishop J.K. Kiwanuka. Kisubi: Marianum Press, 1992.

——, Religion, Education and Development in Uganda: First Memorial Lecture Br. Aidan M. Mulabannaku. Kisubi: Marianum Press, 1997.

——, Struggle for Equality: Women and Empowerment in Uganda. Eldoret: AMECEA Gaba Publications, 2002.

——. “Catholicism Versus Traditionalism in Buganda.” In Christianity in Independent Africa, eds. Robert Gray and Luke Fashole, 413-425, London: [press ?], 1978.

For a more complete bibliography, see:

Ssettuuma, Benedict. Inculturation as Liberation in the Writings of John Mary Waliggo. Rome: Liberit, 2005.



It was in October 1961 that Fr. A. Hastings taught me how to plan a long vision for my future and its program. He taught me to have a very long program and be able to tick whenever each item is achieved. He taught me to revise this program from time to time as circumstances occur. From that time I made for myself a very long program. It has been revised several times. The things I wished to achieve in life have never been less than 100. Of these I have been able to tick only a few, which I wish to share with you.

i) When I was admitted to Katigondo in January 1965 I had the joy of ticking, because I hade never expected to be admitted there.

ii) At the time I was so frustrated by Katigondo teaching and I was about to decide to leave and seek a new vocation in 1966 then I was asked to go to study theology in Rome. This was a most difficult decision for me to make. But helped by several people, including my spiritual director, the Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala now and Adrian Hastings and my elder brother J.C. Kiwanuka, I made the decision to go to Rome. Then I ticked.

iii) When I decided to run for the presidency of Omnes Gentes at the Urbanian University in 1969 I faced a challenge, which I consider as regeneration of Africa. When I came out victorious, I ticked on my agenda.

iv) The biggest tick came on 23rd August 1970 when my bishop, Adrian K. Ddungu ordained me a priest at my home parish of Bisanje. I was always hesitating whether I would ever make it to the priesthood, given my long history of fighting against the unjust and oppressive structures.

v) The day I graduated at Cambridge in history and admitted for the Ph.D. in 1972, I ticked.

vi) The day I was awarded the Ph.D. in history in Cambridge in July 1976, I ticked.

vii) When I successfully served the Uganda Constitutional Commission (1989-93) and managed to come out with the main report and draft constitution, I ticked.

viii) When in 1995 I celebrated my twenty-five years of priesthood at home, I ticked.

ix) For every book I have been able to publish, I tick.

x) For every new responsibility given to me by church or state, I tick.

xi) For every award for peace, justice, human rights, democracy, development, I tick.

xii) All these tickings have not yet come to one-third of what I aimed at but I continue ticking.

xiii) At the age of almost 60, thrity-two years of priesthood; and thirty-five years of academic life one can only hope of continuing to tick as life continues and targets are met. I have about two-birds of the ticking to make.

The will is there; but the time is lacking. But it is never bad to have a longer program in life than what can be realistically accomplished. In my view the important point is not to accomplish the entire program but to have one clearly marked out. At whatever moment the Lord calls one; one should be with a program and that is the program by which one will be judged.

This story, received in 2010, was written by Fr. Benedict Ssettuuma, a diocesan priest from Masaka Diocese who holds a doctorate in missiology from Urban University Rome. He teaches pastoral theology and missiology at St. Mary’s National Major Seminary, Ggaba. He is also the chairperson of the board of directors of the Center of African Christian Studies (CACISA), a DACB participating institution.