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Fr. Raphael Wokorach, PhD student at SU, appointed Bishop

Fr. Raphael Wokorach. Photo by Clement Aribo

Fr. Raphael Wokorach was ordained 28 years ago, in 1993. A year before, he professed his perpetual vows in the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus founded on June 1, 1867 by Italian priest, Daniel Comboni. Soon after his ordination, he was sent to Congo where he resided until he left for Togo in 2001. In 2003, he proceeded to the USA as a formator in the theologate until he came to Kenya in 2007.

In March 2021, after many years of being away from his home country, serving the Lord and his people, he was appointed Bishop: On the 26th of June, he will be installed as Bishop for the Nebbi Catholic Diocese in Uganda.

We spoke to the Bishop Elect, who, with great humour and wisdom, narrated the decision that led him to become a priest, his experience at Strathmore University (SU) as a PhD in Ethics student and his aspiration for his life as Bishop.

Why did you chose to become a priest?

In my early years, I interacted with the Comboni Missionaries, whose way of life impressed and attracted me. So in 1983, I joined the Comboni postulancy and studied Philosophy at the Uganda Martyrs’ National Major Seminary in Alokolum, Gulu-Uganda, where I obtained a BA degree in Philosophy from the Pontifical Urbaniana University. I later pursued a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).

Fr. Raphael, in Italy with a friend, Francesco

I’ve had the privilege of living in different countries and interacting with people from many cultures. When I lived in Congo, I had the difficult task of creating a menu. How do you combine the palates of a Kenyan who wants Ugali, Italians and their pasta and the native Congolese? In the end you discover that there are more important things to living in community than what is put before us at meals.

Why a PhD in SU?

I came to Kenya in 2007 when I was appointed formator in the Theologate and lecturer at Tangaza University College. I had heard positive reviews of Strathmore so I came here to experience its greatness myself. I was put in touch with Prof. Christine Gichure, Dean Emeritus, School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) who has been my supervisor.

My experience here has been great. The little details of service strike me. I find cheerful faces in every office. On the day of my proposal defense, a day that comes with a lot of formality, I was taken to one of the posh restaurants at SBS and provided with free lunch! And it’s fantastic, when I’m there praying, to see people from all walks of life popping into the chapel.

What topic did you chose for your thesis and why?

I chose to focus on leadership and magnanimity based on the works of my favourite philosophers, Aristotle, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas. The Latin origin of the word magnanimous describes the word well; Magnus, meaning great and animus, soul.

Everywhere around us, you’ll agree with me, we encounter a crisis of leadership; in politics, families and in the church. For instance, I went to the US in 2003 just when the clerical sexual scandal was rife. It was hard living as a priest then. Instead of coming towards you, people ran away from us. Yet it shouldn’t be like that.

A magnanimous person knows himself or herself to be worthy of great honors and will, in all humility, work towards using those honours to make the lives of others better. So what makes souls great? Why did Daniel Comboni leave the comfort of his home to go to Sudan as a missionary? What makes such souls willing to sacrifice their lives, as leaders should? That’s what we need to discover and inculcate in ourselves and our young people.

Did you imagine you’d ever be a bishop?

No, it came as a surprise. I had gone for a visit in Uganda when one day the superior alerted me that the Nuncio would like to see me as soon as possible. I wondered why. When I got to his residence, he ushered me into a room, and asked me if I spoke Italian. I said poco (a little). He then proceeded to tell me that the Holy Father had appointed me Bishop. I wasn’t even dressed the part! I was in jeans, and looked a bit dusty. Nevertheless, I accepted and came back on the same day at 4 pm with my consent.

Fr. Raphael (right) with Archbishop Emmanuel Obbo, Tororo Diocese, Uganda)

What do you look forward to being a bishop?

I have been working away from my home country for many years now so this is my chance to serve the people of Uganda. I would also like to be there for my priests because I can’t fulfil my role as Bishop without them. To guide me, I have based my episcopal motto – service in humility- on Mathew 18:4: Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Will you manage to finish your PhD?

I had already completed three chapters but for now I have to halt it as my priority is to my diocese: I have written to the Dean of SHSS to explain my circumstances. On a light note, it would be rather awkward for the panel to adjudicate a Bishop!


This article was written by Wambui Gachari.   


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