opinionBy Jean-Marie Nsambu
Kampala — THE walks with grandeur. His figure is of such majesty, one will hardly miss him even in a crowd. His voice is deep and he speaks eloquently with a heavy French accent. But those are not the only attributes, Archbishop Christophe Pierre captivates an audience.
Pierre, who until March 22, 2007 has served as Apostolic Nuncio (representative of the Pope) in Uganda, is full of humour. He preaches on end, but even with the long time his homilies take, he is able to keep a congregation laughing and clapping throughout.
He is known by virtually every Catholic in Uganda. From individual families; primary, secondary schools and universities; to hospitals and dioceses, Pierre has been to almost every one of them.
In the one month, short of eight years, he has represented the Pope at the Nunciature in Mbuya, Kampala, Archbishop Pierre has attended a church function in almost every parish. He has consecrated churches in the smallest sub-parishes; presided other funerals of the faithful departed and international events that have attracted millions of people.
Dignitary or commoner, Pierre has had ease interacting with people. This was echoed on April 15, 2007 at the thanksgiving/farewell event that the Kampala Archbishop, Cyprian Lwanga, organised for him at Lubaga.
The different speakers applauded Pierre's humility and readiness to help people regardless of their statuses. Representing government, second deputy premier Henry Kajura, said he met the outgoing nuncio at almost every church function that he (Kajura) was invited to.
Robert Ssempa, the head of the laity in Kampala Archdiocese, said Pierre has been more of a diocesan bishop than a papal representative. "He did not mind how low a function was or who had organised it. "If he had time, he would come to grace it. Pierre has had courtesy to eat with simple people in homes, schools, hospitals and even the internally displaced people, in the same way he has pleasured to dine with fellow VIPs."
When the announcement of his transfer to Mexico reached FM radios, Pierre was preparing to travel to northern Uganda and Karamoja to console the suffering people. Nonetheless, he promised to go there as soon as he returned to Kampala.
Pierre will pick his cellphone to call, if only to cancel an appointment. Or he will call to ask whether something he may have sent someone reached the person. He prides in his tenure in Uganda. "Before my appointment here, I only knew about the Ugandan martyrs. So it was an honour to experience first hand, the land of the martyrs."
He says, June 3, the international day and national holiday of the martyrs will always remain memorable to him. "I will always cherish the memories of Namugongo, where I always felt the presence of the whole nation celebrating a day that is old, but always interestingly new."
The martyrs, he says, are a sign of peace. The prelate, who is passionate about peace in the world, has always seen June 3 as a hope for cultivating peace in Uganda.
To him, the war in northern Uganda is the most unfortunate incident. "This war can be avoided. We should value life and events like these (Martyrs' Day) can help us achieve this aspiration."
It was by no chance, therefore, that when on December 29, 2004 the nuncio in Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, was assassinated, Rome chose Pierre to oversee the Nunciature. Pierre who would man the Fort till January 22, 2005, when a substantial nuncio was named, led the Courtney funeral Mass before thousands at the Regina Mundi Cathedral in Bujumbura, on December 30.
Also, a couple of years ago, when Bishop Joseph Zziwa left the country for treatment, Pierre readily accepted an appeal to stand in for him. During the month, he acted for the Ordinary of Kiyinda-Mityana Diocese, Kajura recalled," he ensured pastoral visits to parishes, confirmed children and ordained priests."
John L. Allen Jr., a writer with an independent online newsweekly, the National Catholic Reporter, wrote on September 15, 2006 that there were speculations; Pierre was being considered for an influential Vatican posting.
The position was secretary for relations with states (Vatican's foreign minister). "Most people believe the choice will fall on Pierre," Allen Jr. wrote.
"Pierre has served at the Holy Sea's Observer Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, so he has a background in both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. He also served in Haiti from 1995 to 1999."
Christophe Pierre was seen with qualities like those of the French Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who held the post. "Tauran was the voice of the Holy See during the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2003, and he had insisted that the war was both unethical and illegal."
Pierre was born in Rennes, France on January 30, 1946. Having spent a bigger part of his childhood in Africa, he says he is proud to be African. "I spent the bigger part of my youth in Madagascar, with some years in Malawi, Zimbabwe and one in Morocco.
"For eight years, I have been in Uganda. I will miss Africa. However, I know these days Africans are everywhere in the world, so I will look forward to meeting them in Mexico."
On April 5, 1970 Paul Joseph Marie Cardinal Gouyon ordained Pierre a priest of the Rennes Archdiocese. He was appointed Titular Archbishop of Gunela concurrently with Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, on July 12, 1995.
Angello Cardinal Sodano consecrated him bishop on September 24, 1995, from whence, on May 10, 1999 Rome appointed him to Uganda as nuncio.