By Joseph Okumu
Martyrdom does not happen by chance. The events of all martyrdom's
are always dressed up in many other events. That of the martyrs of Paimol
Okelo and Jildo
Irwa had a number of other historic events.
Firstly, the well remembered slave trade carried out by some
Arabic-speaking traders from Sudan named, by the Acholi of the time,
munu Kutoria and subsequently munu Jadiya who had been official representatives
of the Egyptian administrators on the upper Nile until 1888.
Secondly, the new administrative policy to supplant acholi traditional
and legitimate chiefs by the agents of British Administration,-munu
Thirdly the Spanish fever which broke throughout Acholi land.
Fourthly the venereal disease, which became known as nyac abac,
believed to have been spread by the slave traders who often raped beautiful
looking Acholi women and fifthly the advent of the new religion propagated
by yet another group of white people, munu karatoum. These were Italian
Catholic missionaries of based in Verona, Italy.
All these were new events which threatened the traditional Acholi
integrity. The Acholi people resented and sought ways to put an end
to them all. "Due primarily to British pressure on the Egyptian
government to halt slave trading by its subject on the upper Nile, the
Kutoria period was brought forcibly to a close in 1872 and, in 1888,
at the hands of a multi-polity Acholi force the Jadiya were defeated
and then finally withdrew from Acholi land" (Ronald R. Atkinson,
In 1916 part of Acholi's chiefdom of Agoro, the Logot, killed
a certain Musa, an agent of the British or munu ingereza. Another chiefdom,
Paimol, rebelled against Amet imposed on them by the same munu ingereza.
It was the responsibility of the Acholi witches, ajwaka (sing.), ajwakki
(plur.) to find remedy to Spanish fever and the nyac abac diseases.
Where there was need, the Acholi did not hesitate to consult
and make alliance with other forces to defeat a stronger enemy of their
traditional integrity. In the case of the martyrdom of Daudi Okelo and
Jildo Irwa, deposed chief, Lakidi of Paimol, consulted with and made
alliance with some rebels, the abac and some karimojong in the jungle.
Eye witnesses Fiberto and Daniele reported how the adwi planned
to kill the catechists. Another witness Gabriele Aloo assured that they
were dependable witnesses (Raccolta Albertini 1952-1953: 124-129). Over
seventy five witnesses of the martyrdom of Daudi
Okelo and Jildo
Irwa narrated the complex story of a simple act of fidelity which
has become a life inspiring value of all cultures and times.
1. Early missionary
In the 19th and 20th century, on many European journals, much
news had already circulated on Uganda's central and eastern districts
and two such information's were supposedly accurate and at once challenging.
One such news had been reported by Sir Samuel Baker of slave trade he
had seen during his sourjourn in Acholi land as far beyond Masindi as
Pabo, Patiko and Padibe in 1863 and 1865. But little was really known
and said about the Uganda north of Masindi to the border with Southern
Indeed the Catholic missionaries had not been slow in taking
the challenge of moving into all this and other areas of Africa. In
1845 the first missionaries, the Holy Ghost Fathers, started evangelisation
on the Western coast of the African continent. In 1859, after numerous
and often unhappy attempts, the Fathers of the African Mission of Lyons
were able to establish themselves in Dahomey.
On the Eastern coast the work of evangelisation began around
1860. In 1874 the Missionaries for Africa (White
Fathers), founded by Cardinal Lavigerie, started moving towards
the area of the Great Lakes. On 17th February 1879 ten Missionaries
for Africa, led by Fr. Lourdel, sailed from Marseilles and, starting
from the coast at Mombasa, reached Uganda around the area that is now
known as Entebbe. The farthest they could move northward of the country,
though, was Masindi.
Besides the way from the coast, there was another possibility
of entering Uganda and this was from the north, through Sudan. This
was the path taken by the Comboni Missionaries, founded by Blessed
Daniel Comboni. From Europe, they would sail to Egypt and then on
the river Nile or cross the desert by camel all the way to Khartoum.
From there onwards, the journey was on foot or, later, by steam boat,
but only as far as the Nile cataracts.
missionaries spread the Gospel in the vast and little known areas
of Southern Sudan, arriving eventually in North Uganda. Driven by their
founder's cry "Africa or death" and by his charisma to evangelise
the "poorest and most abandoned", they faced enormous challenges
and sacrifices with determination and enthusiasm, overcoming obstacles
and hardships that many a times seemed insurmountable. The area in the
north of Uganda, bordering with Southern Sudan, is where the martyrdom
2. The villages of the
two martyrs in the grip of interested groups (1848-1888)
From the southern end of Uganda, Sir Samuel Baker ventured into
the interior reaching the Acholi land at Palaro, a slave market near
Patiko, also market place of traders in white and black ivory. But to
put it in colonial terms of the time, these areas were "marginal
and inferior in many ways". During the period 1863-1865, Baker
stayed among the Acholi at what later was called Fort Patiko and made
notes on the people and the land.
Then Baker was named by the Egyptian government to lead its forces
against both the slave traders, whom their Acholi victims referred to
as munu kutoria, and the Mhadi rebels that were still rustling the land
unabated. The kutoria were defeated in 1872. England had at long last
decided to do a little more than just look after the Uganda protectorate,
which by now also included the Acholi land, and began to lay claims
against the Belgians' colonial greed for what was called the Lado enclave,
northwest of present Uganda.
The Acholi people lived in fear of long droughts, wild animals,
slave traders and cattle rustlers from neighboring drier lands. Unfortunately
the British administrator, Munu ingereza in the local language, added
to their plight in an effort to bring them (the heathen, as they were
called) into the empire system by employing non-Acholi agents, irrespective
of their reputation. Indeed the neighboring Banyoro, referred to by
the Acholi as Luduni, and remnants of the slave traders, the feared
Munu Jadiya, were readily available for such a job.
Because of their centralised-polity, the Banyoro were held in
higher respect by the Crown than the heathen or pagan Acholi, because
the Banyoro had one king (a centralised social structure), while the
Acholi had many kings. The Missionaries of Africa in their evangelising
drive had reached the Banyoro and made numerous converts among them,
but did not enter Acholi land. "In 1888, defeated at the hands
of a multi-Acholi forces, the munu jadiya finally withdrew from Acholi
land". The Acholi, though, always kept a careful watch on the various
groups that showed interest in their territory.
Bending the "heathen"
Acholi to come part of the empire (1894-1916)
In 1894 a final treaty was signed by England and other European
powers to safeguard the whole of the Uganda protectorate, including
the Lado conclave. The Acholi land, though, where raids, inter tribal
feuds, famine and disease continued unabated, was still considered as
marginal and inferior. In 1902, however, Acholi land was declared as
one of the three districts of the Uganda protectorate, but, even so,
things did not improve much.
One of the tasks of the administrators of the Uganda protectorate
was to collect an "annual hut tax" from every adult male.
Since the people had no money to pay this tax, the administrators in
exchange introduced a kind of forced labour where the men were made
to construct roads and administrative buildings. It was a way to completely
subjugate the new district of the Nile province. Discreetly also the
slave trade continued, as the Comboni missionary, Mgr. Antonio Vignato,
Prefect Apostolic of the Equatorial Nile, would later confirm in his
first official correspondence with Propaganda Fide in 1923.
The administrators of the Protectorate (F.K. Girling 1960, 109-110)
started a long process of what they considered civilising the Acholi
social structure by deposing their traditionally anointed chiefs
and rulers. The great Acholi Payira sub-clan, ruled by rwot Awic, was
the first to be targeted. Between 1911 and 1912, on the order of Munu
ingereza, the indigenous chief was deposed and replaced with Yonna Odida,
believed to be more subservient to the government.
In 1917 chief Lakidi of Paimol was also deposed and replaced
by Amet, also reputed to be submissive to the government. Similar changes
were made among lower ranks of the chiefdom. In Padibe a government
administrator imposed a certain Musa, a Muslim, who in 1916 was killed
by the Logot. In Paimol, the sub chief Ogal, the one who welcomed the
two martyred catechists, was replaced by a certain Bongi. Most of the
government administrators had been assisted in carrying out their duties
by the Banyoro and Baganda.
By the time the Protestant and the Comboni missionaries arrived
in Acholi land, there were many educated Banyoro
and Baganda in the area. The Protestant missionaries made great use
of their skills to translate books. The Comboni missionaries, instead,
did so to a much lesser extent.
3. The arrival of the
steamboat, with Comboni Missionaries on board, set off on 30th December
1909 from the small port of Khartoum in Northern Sudan. Acholi land
had officially been recognised by the government open to Catholic missionaries
since 1902, when there was an historical policy change.
Very Rev. Fr. Federico Vianello, the Superior General of Daniel
Comboni's missionaries, Mgr. Franz Xavier Geyer, Vicar Apostolic
of the Central African Mission, and his secretary Brother Cagol might
have looked like the happiest men on earth as on board of the Redemptor
were beginning their journey towards the north of Uganda.
The Comboni missionary Fr. Albino Colombaroli, then in Wau, the
capital of the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal, received an urgent telegram
to leave for Shambe, by way of Tonje-Rumbek, to join the team coming
on the Redemptor. Once it reached the cataracts of the river Nile, the
boat had, unfortunately, to be abandoned and the impatient missionaries
had to proceed on foot.
This might have been a blessing in disguise for the Italian missionaries
who wanted to approach the local people with a distinctly friendly method
suggested by their founder Daniele Comboni, namely to "save Africa
by Africans". The method will from now on borrow much from the
African value of community life at meal. Salvation must be based on
sharing a meal with each other.
The Eucharist basis:
The first impressive manifestation of faith in the area was seen on
18th January 1910 when Mgr. Geyer's group arrived at the Commissioner's
house in Gondokoro to a warm welcome by a large crowd lead by a Catholic
employee from Goa, a certain "Mr. Dias, and many Catholics from
Uganda, easily recognised by the crown they carried on their necks".
The Ugandans had settled in that place as soldiers, servants and traders.
The following day, 19 January 1910, Mgr. Geyer celebrated Holy Mass
in the house of one of the sergeants, a catholic from Uganda.
Msgr. Geyer was very pleased by the large congregation and by
their faith. Relations with the authorities, though, did not go so well.
Monsignor's obedience to and patience with government administrators,
love for and trust in the "underprivileged" people and the
urge to go whenever the need arose, became the characteristics of a
typically Comboni missionary's apostolate in the Equatorial Nile Prefecture,
laying the foundation of a loving and zealous community headed by the
martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa.
The difficulties encountered in setting up missions were quickly
felt, not only on account of lack of material means, but also due to
contrasts, oppositions and mistrust. "On 2nd February 1910 we arrive
at Nimule, a lovely fertile piece of land where the small Unyama meets
the Nile and Koba rivers, just on the right side where the Nile enters
Lake Albert and turns on its course. The desire to settle here is irresistible.
But all will depend on the governor who, with some discomfort, witnessed
the large congregation at the first Catholic Mass.
The Commissioner, Mr. Hannington, son of the Protestant
bishop assassinated in Busoga on 29th October 1885 by order of the
Buganda's King Mwanga, has cautiously suggested a temporary settlement
at Nimule, but the final decision is still to come" (Negri A 1937.14).
A new English Commissioner had just arrived and Mgr. Geyer's attempt
to explain his position by referring to the recommendations of the Governor
General of Khartoum was in vain. Though uncertain of a permanent stay,
the caravan settled on a site by the regular Butyaba-Nimule route link
(Negri A. ibidem).
The favorable answer to Msgr. Geyer's request for a place where
to settle arrived four days later, but the message was not given to
him straight away. In those days, in fact, the ex-president of the United
Sates of America, Theodore
Roosevelt, was visiting the area with 600 porters and set up camp
just next to Msgr. Geyer's spot. Msgr. Geyer was finally handed over
the permission to open a mission station at Nimule, by the Lake Albert,
near a government post. Koba was suggested as the place for a permanent
An interesting thing that Msgr. Geyer recalls was that the Shilluk,
when asked the name of the river the Redemptor was on, they said: Ni
lo? - meaning who knows?- a mystery indeed (Cisternino Mario 2000).
Indeed the missio ad gentes had started off on a mystery course, partly
revealed by the events that took place in Paimol, at Wi-Polo. Msgr.
Geyer, though, would never know of this event.
In the first months of 1911 a Protestant World Missionary Conference
was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. 1200 delegates from the remotest parts
of the world participated. At this conference a new approach to apostolate
of the CMS was discussed with specific appeal to collect a hyperbolic
sum of money to finance missionary activities in Omach.
The German representative, Dr. Kraff of the CMS, had already
sent a catechist to stay at Koba as early back as 1848. These two were
areas where the Comboni
Missionaries were just beginning their work, always behind the CMS
who enjoyed the government's favour.
5. Evangelization and
From Koba Msgr. Geyer had free contacts with both the
Alur and Acholi neighbor's. He was planning to establish a second mission
station in the region. Soon Msgr. Geyer met with Alur and Acholi chiefs
to decide for a more permanent settlement among either of them. In Msgr.
Geyer's assessment, the Acholi were more primitive, difficult to trust
and warlike and so he would be rather careful before opening a mission
among them (Negri A. 1937.17-18).
On 6th March 1910 Mgr. Geyer blessed a cross for a church among
the Alur, at Omach. The converts were increasing. There was a clear
need for more labourers. Fr. Luigi Cordone and Fr. Pasquale Crazzolara
arrived from Italy with Bro. Clement Schroer and Bro. Benedict Sighele.
There was also the need to diversify evangelisation by taking into account
human development and education. Msgr. Geyer only had the time to bless
the new arrivals before returning to Europe to recover some strength.
Meanwhile the work at the mission continued with a new dimension
added, that of education. To the suspicious local population, it now
appeared clearly that the new white people were not interested in black
and white ivory. Fr. Pasquale Crazzolara was very well prepared and
keen to learn the local languages, Luganda
and Acholi, and to translate the catechism of Pope Pius X into the
Alur language to be used in their evangelising work. The text was in
a question and answer form, approved for catechetical instructions all
over the Apostolic Prefecture.
Fr. Albino Colombaroli was the superior of the mission. Children
were coming from all over the place to see the Comboni Missionaries,
the new white people whom they soon referred to as the munu karatum
- the people from Khartoum (Negri A Op. Cit 18-20). The Acholi chief
Lagony, who had sixty wives, was very happy to send one of his children
to the new munu. Soon the people willingly sent their children to the
friendly munu karatum who had truly come to teach them the way to heaven,
6. Fr. Beduschi and
Fr. Pietro Audisio settle among the Acholi
The Alur chief Okelo of West Nile, whose territory used to be
under Belgian authorities due to the first Anglo-Belgian treaty of 12th
May 1894, repeatedly kept sending one of his pages, a certain catechist
Areni, to call the new munu to his quarters to teach him catechism.
Fr. Colombaroli, who occasionally visited him, had to enter the Lado
enclave, still under Belgian authority.
When the Belgian King
Leopld II died, 17th December 1909, a second Anglo-Belgian treaty
transferred the Lado enclave under British
authority. The missionaries were then free to visit the West Nile
and Acholi areas. On 28th April 1911 Fr. Giuseppe Beduschi and Fr. Pietro
Audisio, from Verona and via Omach, arrived among the Acholi to open
the new mission of Gulu.
As the number of catechumens was steadily increasing, the Comboni
Missionaries turned for help to the White Fathers who had at hand
a good number of trained Bunyoro catechists. Knowing that an indigenous
catechist would do better in his own environment, as he is familiar
with the situation and enjoys the trust and love of the people, the
Comboni missionaries avoided the mistake of employing many catechists
The administrators of the protectorate and the Protestant Church
Missionary Society (CMS) had been employing many Bunyoro people in various
positions. For Gulu mission, the missionaries asked just for three catechists.
These were granted by the Apostolic Vicar of Uganda, Msgr. Streicher.
By the middle of 1912 Fr. Colombaroli brought to Gulu Fr. Giuseppe
Zambonardi and Bro. Luigi Savariano. Fr. Zambonardi was to found the
new station of Foweira (Payira?) on the left bank of Victoria Nile,
just near Kamdini. Foweira, unfortunately, was not suitably placed to
serve both Omach and Gulu.
In September 1912 Fr. Colombaroli and Fr. Zambonardi abandoned
Foweira and moved to Palaro, on the opposite side of the bank, where
on 19th October they settled in the village of the great Palaro chief
Rasigala and there they founded the first Palaro mission station. Palaro,
one of the oldest slave markets, needed a special approach.
7. In Kitgum, en route
At the beginning of February 1915, Fr. Vignato and Fr. Beduschi
left Gulu for Kitgum, which is on the mouth of the river Pager, just
about one Km from a government settlement. They reached the place on
the 11th of the same month, feast of the apparition of Our Lady Immaculate
They burned the tall grass and cleared they had selected for
the new mission. A month later, in March 1915, Fr. Gian Battista Pedrana
and Fr. Cesare Gambaretto joined them. Bro. Poloniato arrived a little
later and they all finally settled down.
On 7th May 1915 Fr. Gambaretto writes that, ever since they had
arrived there, he was happy to report that they were having many people
coming to them for instruction, including an eleven-year-old boy who
already knew all the prayers and the songs, as he was at the Protestant
mission, but went to the new missionaries because he said: "we
want God". "The [Catholic] school is well developed",
continues Fr. Gambaretto, "and in the morning we have up to fifteen
children coming around. In the evening we have up to fifty boys who
sleep in the huts near us, among them eight sons of the local chiefs.
The Protestant arrived here before us and made converts. Thank
God we had prepared a handful of catechists whom we posted earlier on
in this area. These are the Catholics catechists posted in the following
The head catechist Bonifacio Okot in Kitgum;
The 52 year-old catechist Elia Adeka in Omiya Pacwaa;
Romolo Olango in Wool station;
The catechist Antonio in Paimol.
Antonio was a cousin of Daudi
Okelo. As it happened, when Antonio died, Okelo volunteered to take
his place as catechist in Paimol.
8. Daudi Okelo of Ogom
Payira and Jildo Irwa of Labongo Bar-Kitoba
Generally speaking, one can never know with certitude of two
things about African people: one is their naming and the other is their
age. This is especially true of bygone times, because names were, and
still are, given to remember a particular event or situation. As for
the age, this was not date-recorded in the way western taught us to
do today. Besides, African people always considered it bad luck to list
names and to enumerate persons.
Okelo, in fact, is the Acholi name given to a child who follows
a sibling born in a certain way or who has a special mark. Are considered
such those children born by the legs first instead of the head or born
with defects of any kind, like six fingers, and so on. Such a child
is called Ojok if a male and Ajok if a female. Okelo, therefore, is
a true Acholi name given according to an Acholi custom and with a traditional
The martyr Daudi Okelo was born of Lode (father) and of Amona
(mother) in the village of Ogom-Payira. The larger Acholi sub-clan,
Payira, was headed by the sub-chief Awich, son of Rwotcamo who had been
killed in battle while fighting the Padibe clan in 1887. Around 1830
the Payira clan numbered between ten to fifteen thousand people, spread
in about thirty village-lineages, whose location was the central zone
of Acaa river, east of the Nile.
One of these thirty village-lineages was Okelo's Pa-Ocota village-lineage,
situated in Ogom-Payira, a few km to the east of the mouth of the river
Acaa. Here Daudi Okelo was born around 1902. This date is only a conjecture
based on the mission baptismal register. Okelo's parents lived and died
in their traditional religious practice. Okelo's world was more open
than his parents', since he came in touch with the white missionaries
and other foreigners. Lode and Amona brought up Okelo very well and
they would have loved to see him grow and settle down to form a family
according to tradition.
Equally significant is Irwa [Ermene]Jildo, also an Acholi from
Labongo Bar-Kitoba. Ir-wa's literal translation means "of-us"
or "ours". It is an endearing name among the Labongo. Now,
perhaps, the meaning of his name will take up a missionary dimension:
that of belonging to a new people, as the whole Church would say of
[Ermene]Jildo: "Irwa - One of ours".
Born of Okeny, better known as Tongfur and of his mother Ato,
Irwa lived in his Labongo village south west of Kitgum, in the same
direction as that of Okelo. Labongo, like Payira, was a subdivision
of the greater Acholi ethnic group. In about 1917 the Labongo people
migrated to Olworngu, a short distance east of the present Bar-Kitoba,
where previously the other Labongo village-lineages of Gem, Koch, and
Parakono had migrated.
For the purpose of pastoral care, the missionaries had divided
Kitgum Mission into two sections, at exactly the 32° latitude, so
the whole eastern section would be looked after by Fr. P. Audisio and
the western section by Fr. C. Gambaretto. Irwa's village was situated
in Fr. Gambaretto's area. Naturally, it was Fr. Gambaretto who first
met Jildo in the catechumenate.
Irwa's mother, Ato, died when he was very young and his father
Tongfur married again. Tongfur's second wife, Akelo, brought up Irwa
with great affection, as he was the only male. Akelo gave birth to four
girls. Though orphaned at an early age, Irwa knew how to repay love
with love. As he experience so much family love, he was able to share
this love and even his life with others to the extent of martyrdom for
the sake of Christ's gospel. His great heart would meet yet another
great heart, that of Daudi Okelo, and both together strived to share
God's love with all by bringing their people to WI-Polo, beginning with
the marginalized and so-called inferior, living in the third district
of the Nile Province.
9. Okelo and Irwa as
catechumens at Kitgum
From Kitgum mission station, Fr. Gambaretto often went to meet
the children in villages where he prepared them for the catechumenate.
The formal meeting in villages was commonly known as lok-odiku: literally
translated as "the morning words" or morning lessons. Once
the period of lok-odiku was completed, the children received medals
that they wore on their necks. This period lasted one full year, after
which one was admitted to the catechumenate, known as lok-otyeno: literally
meaning "the evening words" or evening lessons. Lok-otyeno
lasted two full years. During this period the children lived at the
mission. At the end of it, they received baptism and first holy communion
and were given a crucifix to wear around their necks.
Okelo's village of Ogom-Payira can still be seen lying by the
side of the present Gulu-Kitgum route, which, in all probability, is
the same old caravan route followed by the first government administrators
and missionaries. Due to his location, the village has certainly being
exposed to contacts and influence of what was going on more than the
other interior villages of the area.
Around 1913 Okelo came in contact with the Catholic missionaries
who, from Gulu, had been surveying the area east of Acaa river in search
of a suitable mission station. Okelo was old enough to stand on his
own two small feet when Mgr. Geyer's and Bro. Cagol, coming from Gondokoro
along the route of the Ni-lo, first tracked their way to Kitgum and,
later missionaries, to Paimol and, mysteriously, all the way to WI-Polo
Having completed the one year-period of lok-odiku in their villages,
Daudi and Jildo went to Kitgum mission for the lok-otyeno, which they
also completed together on 1st June 1916. They both went on to receive
the necessary instruction for confirmation that they again received
together on 15th October 1916. As catechumens in the mission Daudi and
Jildo excelled for their intelligence and kindness.
Oloya Cirillo of Kitgum, who was in the catechumenate together
and Jildo, says about them: "They were very good. Jildo was
a scullery-boy at the sisters' house". Adamo Opoka, who was head
catechist of Kitgum at the time, says "The two conducted themselves
in an exemplary way, which was the reason why they were put in charge
of the other catechumens".
10. A generous offer
to evangelise Paimol
"But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him,
and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and
they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher and they will never
have a preacher unless one is sent
" (Rm 10:14-16). Great
apostles love and treasure these words of Paul.
Daudi and Jildo learnt them from the missionaries and they applied
them to themselves till the end. Daudi's older cousin, Antonio, was
working as a catechist in Paimol. When he died, the place was left with
no catechist, with "no preacher to spread the good news".
Young Daudi went to Fr. Gambaretto, the missionary responsible for Paimol,
and asked: "Who is to go to replace my cousin in Paimol?"
"I have no one to send", replied the missionary.
The following day both Daudi
and Jildo presented themselves to Fr. Gambaretto with an idea on
how to remedy the situation. Daudi said: "Father, if you wish,
Jildo and I could go to Paimol to replace Antonio". The priest
immediately told them about the difficulties and dangers lurking in
the remote zone of Paimol. The youngsters still insisted. The priest,
then, dismissed them, but reminded them, if they were serious about
their proposition, to return the next day.
The next day the two youngsters were back. Fr. Gambaretto asked
them: "So you are set in your mind to go to Paimol? Are you sure
you know the risks you are taking? Do you know that the people of Paimol
have not yet been properly subdued by the government? And you Jildo,
you are still small, can you make it to Paimol?"
The difficulties and dangers in Paimol the parish priest was
talking about were mainly the famine, which followed the 1916 long drought,
the Spanish fever that broke out in the same year, the hostile rebel-groups
or remnants of the munu jadiya who now felt even threatened by the Christian
religion, the local witches and witch doctors who were constantly loosing
adherents who were more inclined to follow the religion of munu karatum.
Daudi, the senior of the two, answered: "We will stay together"
The parish priest retorted "But what if they kill you?"
"We shall go to wi-polo, to heaven. Antonio is already there. Isn't
he?" Then continued: "I do not fear death. Did not Jesus also
die for us?" Jildo, who was looking at the priest somehow taken
aback by these words, took up from there: "Father, do not be afraid.
Jesus and his Mother Mary are with us". At last the priest gave
in. He went into his room, collected the catechism of Pius X, the one
translated by Fr. Crazzolara, some prayer booklets and the rosaries,
which he handed to them. Still under the verandah, the priest asked
Daudi and Jildo to recite an Hail Mary together and then blessed them
for their mission in Paimol.
11. At Paimol they "taught
religion very well and convincingly"
Okelo and Jildo Irwa left their beloved villages of Ogom-Payira
and Labongo Bar-Kitoba and, accompanied by the head-catechist Bonifacio
Okot, went to Paimol to carry on the work of Antonio. The faith, fortitude,
love and generosity that filled them on their journey cannot be comprehended
but in the light of the sacrament of confirmation they had just recently
received and celebrated. They were truly burning with the zeal to evangelise
The catechist Bonifacio introduced them first to Ogal, the mukungu
or the appointed sub chief of the area. Ogal kindly welcomed the two
young catechists and was so generous as to offer them food and drink,
a great symbolic gesture that in the Acholi tradition signifies hospitality
and respect for the lives of the people concerned. The youngster were
allotted a fairly sizable hut next to Ocok Mukomoi, a brother of Ogal.
They settled and lived there for the rest of their stay in Paimol.
As trained by the missionaries, they employed the same method
of apostolate by going from village to village, visiting and making
friends with everyone, especially the children who would become lok-odiku.
The main task was to preach the word of God, "pwonyo dini"
in Acholi. For the children staying with them, the daily timetable consisted
of: work in the fields in the early and cooler morning, beat the drum
to call the children from work and to assemble next to the hut of the
catechists, teaching the lok-odiku beginning with with morning prayers.
Now and again the priest or a head catechist would come around to see
how everything was going.
Daudi and Jildo were often visited by the catechist Antonio Adyanga
and testified that the children loved to come and crowd around Daudi
and Jildo. Gabriele Aloo, who was one of the catechumen in Paimol, said
"Not only we children, even adults loved Daudi and Jildo, because
they taught religion very well and in a convincing way".
12. Hostility against
religion 1916 and 1917
The period 1916 and 1917 went down the annals of the missionaries
as a difficult and trying period in the evangelisation history of Acoli
land. Smallpox and famine broke out and the local population took to
superstitious remedies. The catechists came in strongly with the proclamation
of the good news of salvation, right up at the very administrative center
Apprehensively people began to ask the diviners to explain the
cause for the small pox and for the famine. The diviners, many of whose
clients were converting to the new religion, at once found faults with
the religion of munu karatum and with the people who preached it, namely
the catechists. At about this time, Paimol's chief Lakidi was deposed
and incarcerated for a time in Kitgum. He patiently served his short
After his release, again Amet, the vice-chief, accused him of
plotting against the local colonial administration in Kitgum. This time
Lakidi did not take it lying down. He fled to the jungle where he met
the rebels adwi Abas and others. There in the jungle a plot to resolve
their political aims and to put an end to the new religion was hatched.
The execution of their plot was planned and carried out in details,
each group knowing precisely which place and which person to attack.
In fact, one group went to attack the village of Amet, a second group
to attack and kill sub chief Bongi and the third group to kill the two
In order to kill the catechists it was necessary to have someone
who knew them well. Opio Akadamo, Ibrahim Okedi, Odong and another Ibrahim,
all people from Ogal's village, were selected for the task. It was the
weekend of 19-21 October 1918. The catechists, after reciting the evening
rosary with the catechumens, were asleep in their hut.
The party set off long before dawn, at the second cockcrow according
to African chronology. In a few hours the catechists and catechumens
would wake up at the sound of the drumbeat for morning prayers. But
this morning they would unexpectedly wake up at WI-polo, in heaven,
our future place, as the two catechists had been teaching.
The actual killing of Daudi and Jildo
On reaching the village of the sub chief Ogal, the assailants
moved towards their hut., Ocok Mukomoi, Ogal's brother and the catechists'
neighbor, must have been woken up by the attackers footsteps and voices.
He went outside his hut and addressed the intruders by asking them what
When he realised that they were murderers who had come for Daudi
and Jildo, he entered into a heated argument with them in defense
of the two catechists. Okedi Ibrahim and Opio Akadamoi ignored him.
In the meantime Daudi, realising what was going on, came out of his
hut and kindly asked Ocok Mukomoi to let those people carry out what
they had come to do.
Seeing that the assailants did not want to listen to him, Ocok
made a sign to Daudi to run away, while continuing to plead with the
men to respect the symbolic gesture of respect for life accorded to
the catechists when they ate food and drank water from Ogal's house.
"Do not kill them here in my place for they have already eaten
and drunk here. Kill them outside, if you must." As Daudi did not
run away, the killers grabbed him and led him outside the village compound.
Then Okedi Ibrahim dealt him a mortal blow with his spear.
On realising what had happened to Daudi, Jildo also came out
of the hut and asked the killers to kill him as well since he too had
been teaching religion together with Daudi. "If you killed him
because he taught religion, kill me also, because I also taught religion
with him". They, then, dragged him away and Opio Akadamoi struck
him dead with his spear".
14. Fame of martyrdom
Today, in the year 2002, eighty-four years after their martyrdom,
we celebrate the death of Daudi
Okelo and Jildo Irwa. How did we come to know so much about them?
First of all our elders have a long memory of the important events that
happened in the village, and certainly could not easily forget what
happened on that weekend of 19-21 October 1918.
They remember many details about the killing of such two good
catechists who were truly loved by all. What they had done with the
bodies of the two youngsters was something unusual in that the bodies
had not been buried the way ordinary dead persons were buried. Their
bodies were taken to and left to rot over an empty termite anthill.
This very unusual gesture could not have been easily forgotten and showed
that the local people regarded the two catechists and their death something
In 1927 Mgr. Antonio Vignato collected their remains from Paimol-Palamuku,
where they had been left, took them to Kitgum and buried them with honor
in the large Church of Kitgum, which had just been completed four years
earlier in 1923. Even after their remains had been removed from Paimol-Palamuku,
the Christians of the area continued to go and pray at the anthill,
already venerated as a special place. It was even renamed WI-polo ("in
heaven"), in remembrance of the prayer Daudi and Jildo had taught
to the catechumens in Paimol: "Our Father who art in heaven
Moreover, the villagers actually started to bury their dead up
at WI-polo, transforming the place into a Christian graveyard. Many
parents also named their children after Daudi and Jildo. The great uncles
of Jildo composed a bwola, a royal song in his honor.
In 1951 the Comboni Missionaries Fr. Vittorio Albertini and Fr. Vincenzo
Pellegrini were asked to collect some testimonies of the alleged martyrdom
for a possible opening of a canonical process.
Though records were collected in 1952-1953, the process could
not start then due to a number of reasons, like the lack of expertise
to undertake the study of the cause, the First and Second World Wars,
the anti-colonial feelings that the Comboni
missionaries met by the hands of political progressive parties in
Uganda, the increasing government's religious bias in the late fifties
and early sixties and the post independent Uganda periods of Milton
Obote in 1962-1970 and of Idi Amin Dada in 1971-1979.
The Gulu diocesan
synod of 1996 proposed to take up the canonical process and study of
the two catechists' martyrdom in a professional way. And with the expertise
of the Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Arnaldo Baritussio, in Rome and Fr.
Mario Marchetti in Gulu, Uganda, and of the diocesan priest Fr. Joseph
Okumu, the diocesan process opened in 1997 and closed in 1998. Almost
on record time, on 23rd April 2002 a decree of martyrdom was issued
by the Sacred Congregation of Saints for Blessed
Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa.
On 20th October 2002, Mission Sunday, the Pope
in Rome will declare blessed the two martyred catechists and present
them to the entire Church. It will be a recognition of Daudi
Okelo and Jildo Irwa's service for the "missio ad gentes"
and a reaffirmation that "there are martyrs even in our time",
in the third millennium, who have irrigated the soil of the Church along
the Ni-lo. In Uganda there will be two more crosses shining in the sky,
in addition to the earlier twenty two, binding a divided country in
a mysterious way through the cross on which Our Saviour died.
Many people, in north Uganda, who know Daudi
and Jildo find in them a model of zeal to share Christian values
with other people i.e. to evangelise. Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa teach
us that the Catholic Christian faith has two essential dimensions, the
personal and social. At the personal dimension, Catholic Christian faith
is received as a gift of God revealed to us and at its social level
this faith must be put shared out to the benefit of other people.
Daudi Okelo received the faith from the Missionaries of Italy
and thereafter felt the need to share it out in Paimol. In this way
and Jildo teach us here in north Uganda that when we take our faith
seriously that faith easily becomes love of one another. This is what
many other catechists after Daudi and Jildo did in north Uganda. During
the on going insurgency, 66 catechists have been killed by combatants
as they went around rendering services to their needy brothers and sisters
in the Archdiocese
of Gulu. They remained in their places of work and service until
death because they understood that "a man can have no better love
than to lay down his life for his friends".
In the St. Joseph's Catechists Training Institute of the Archdiocese
of Gulu, the catechists always looked at the painting of Daudi
and Jildo and although they had not yet been declared martyrs, they
followed their example of strong faith and zeal to share that faith
with all peoples. The fame of martyrdom of the two young catechists
remain alive in the hearts of all student catechists. Catechists of
the Archdiocese of Gulu, like their companions Daudi and Jildo, are
always ready to go to preach gospel values to their own people thus
bringing to reality what Pope Paul VI had predicted when in 1969, he
talked of Africans being missionaries to themselves.
Wisdom says one thing about life in many different ways viz.
History repeats itself, nothing is new under the sun, a fool can only
learn by his own mistake. But there is one best way to put all these
sayings together. Life is learning, now, from the past to become better
in the future. In other words it is to know how to fit well together
the past present and the future. Martyrs like Daudi
Okelo and Jildo Irwa said it is to live in Faith, Love and Hope.
Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa are known as martyrs of evangelisation
because of their zeal to go and preach the gospel of love some eighty
kilometers away from their homes. This seems to be a very simple thing
which anyone would be in a position to do in theory. But today Ugandans
know how difficult it is to go and export the gospel values of love
to neighbor's. Daudi
and Jildo had all reasons to fear Paimol people and areas but they
decided, in the name of Jesus Christ, to look at the good results which
their mission would bring to Paimol without counting the cost. This
is a zeal that may look in a world torn apart by ethnic differences
but it truly happened and still happens.
Recently Ugandans remembered a catholic priest of Kasaana Luwero
who was killed in an ambush in Burundi. The national and independent
dailies paid tribute to him. Gulu
archdiocese remembers that over 66 catechists have still been killed
where they went to export the gospel values of love. Many Ugandans have
learnt to appreciate the zeal to evangelize and now that they have concrete
models of their own stock they should love to be more zealous.
Political situation has not completely changed from what it used
to be in 1918. When you recall the imposition and arrest of local chiefs
by the British administrators of the time and their attitude towards
the areas beyond Masindi, then you will realise that many African states
are still far from free and democratic. Blessed
Daudi and Jildo knew how to live in a situation of the same sort
with a tolerance inspired by faith and love.
When the killers fell upon the young catechists in their huts
they tried to dissuade them to teach the new gospel values in Paimol.
They would live if they stopped teaching it. But the two catechists
stood by their faith. Like Daudi
and Jildo we find it difficult to stand by our faith in the face
of opposition. If we want to stand firm in our convictions, Daudi and
Jildo will be our models.
Examples fervent faith
Daudi and Jildo offer us a lesson in faith and fidelity. Of the
young martyrs, two things strike us with admiration; their young age
and the short time they lived their Christian faith with determination.
To them Jesus Christ was not a reality who could be chosen today and
abandoned tomorrow. The life according to the gospel, prayer, fraternal
charity, work and the desire to be instruments of evangelization, teaching
the new religion gave them confidence in front of all difficulties.
They felt that their service in Paimol, as catechists, entered
well into the plan of God by which the priests and other catechists
preferred them to others. For this they remained stronger and more matured
than other people of the place who asked them to abandon the new religion
and the church at the time of difficulty. They had said "Jesus
and Mary are with us" before they came to Paimol and now they must
show this practically. Great example indeed!
An examination of conscience for us today who easily give up
the true faith and the church for practices contrary to Christian faith.
These two lay catechists, who did not fear to witness their faith by
the shedding of blood, are an awe-inspiring example to the universal
Church and, more specially, to the Church in Uganda. At the dawn of
the third millennium Christians are invited to renew their faith in
a God who is always with them till the end of time.
of two young catechists Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa are a testimony in
our own time of the truth of Christ's words. It is not just enough to
receive the great gift of faith but one must be willing and convinced
to share this great gift with others.
and Jildo, it all started with a simple but zealous question: "Father,
who will go to Paimol to take the place of Antonio?" This was a
question loaded with faith, love and hope of so simple and youthful
souls of Daudi
and Jildo. They wanted to go to evangelise Paimol, 80 or more kilometers
east of their own villages of Ogom-Payira and Labongo Bar-Kitoba.
Catechist Antonio of Paimol had died a year earlier in 1916.
The two of them feel that they must go to replace him. In this way the
great apostolic appeal apostle Paul must be obeyed also in our time,
"But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and
they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they
will not hear of him unless they get a preacher and they will not get
a preacher unless one is sent" (Rm 10:14-16).
Apostolic zeal is always based on faith. Daudi
and Jildo had just embraced the faith and been confirmed in the
Spirit of God, and already, hardly a year later, they are willing to
go and propagate the new religion as catechists in Paimol. It was difficult
to serve as catechists in that part of acholi land. Faced with indifference
and lack of enthusiasms today every Christian learns from Daudi
and Jildo to be charitable and zealous to share all gifts with others.
Examples of responsibility
The decree with
which the Holy
Father Pope John Paul II acknowledges the martyrdom of Daudi
and Jildo reminds us that our two heroes had been notable disciples
of the Lord because of their good conduct.
By their lives, they preached what they themselves had received.
Just because they were real catechists, faithful to their mandate and
service they become examples to the local church and examples also to
each person who is part of the Christian community.
By their lives they appeal to both the catechists and all Christians.
They appeal to the youth and adults, individual and communities, church
and society and peoples of all walks of life to rest their lives on
stable spiritual and moral values.
Examples of Freedom
We may ask what
Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa may teach us today. Firstly, a lesson
of freedom. To be a Christian is to be free, free to make choices. Daudi
and Jildo attained this freedom by accepting to evangelise their brothers
and sisters. They were free to run away from Paimol when the situation
there became manifestly dangerous. They chose, instead, to remain, to
continue in their mission.
Even when they became aware that the adwi intended to kill them,
they still chose to remain. The choices one makes in life determine
the kind of person one becomes. Emulating Daudi
and Jildo we are invited to have that type of freedom of choices
that determines what we want to be, remembering that the best choices
are always life giving, love inspired, noble and generating peace.
Today, many young people rush to make choices very easily and
so they often go wrong. For example, the rash choices to use drugs,
heroines, join the army which often ends up in killing a person, etc.
are not a noble choice. The noble choices of Blessed
Daudi and Jildo do challenge us today. What have I done with my
life? Have I put my talents to the service of the Gospel or of Mammon?
Examples of truth and
and Jildo are a voice, which cannot be silenced, of truth and justice.
In fact in front of their killers they continued to proclaim their innocence
"you may kill us, but we have done nothing wrong".
The witnesses of their death also said "they killed them
[Daudi and Jildo] for no reason". These voices of the innocent
of all times must be remembered because they continue to remind us of
the grave responsibilities of those who use power to exploit, down trod,
oppress the weaker and the innocent.
The blood of Daudi
and Jildo cries against the injustices committed against the innocent
by those who continue to spill more blood for selfish interests. "The
blood of the just Abel... and of many others like him... among whom
there are also Daudi and Jildo, continues to ask for clemency, measure,
pity, justice compassion and truth!
Will our society hear them? The martyrs return again today in
our time". The Pope reminds us.
Examples of pardon and
Like Jesus and St.
and Jildo forgave their persecutors telling them of the meaninglessness
of their gesture. They told whoever wanted to kill them that their mission
would not be finished with their death even after they had been killed,
other catechists would have come to Paimol to continue the mission.
No one would anymore stop the preaching of the gospel in Paimol.
They did not deceive themselves because as we can see today all
the Christian communities prepare to celebrate the martyrdom. By their
heroic example to suffer the violence other than not, they call all
Ugandans, suffering and torn apart by ethnic and political divisions
to the only way to lasting peace and unity which is pardon, reconciliation,
justice and truth.
Responding to evil with, to violence with violence, to tyranny
with tyranny may give the impression of being very powerful or invincible
but in the end of the day it brings more insecurity in the country.
and Jildo invite all to find a way different from the violent one
of the present.
The role of the catechist
The history of the
arrival and growth of Christianity in Uganda can only be fully explained
by the role of the catechists, persons who had been able to reach even
the remotest villages of the Christian communities. In effect, the catechists
have represented and continue to represent the basic Christian communities
of the church, priests and the people. They know both the priests and
their people better because they live with both better than anybody.
Today, catechists continue to be indispensable in the growth
and maintenance of the parishes and their outstations. In fact, they
are the immediate contact with the people of all places for an effective
and fruitful pastoral organization of the communities. Without them
the priests would have insurmountable pastoral difficulties in their
The catechists therefore are vital and reputable leaders of the
people. They are, to sum it up, the indispensable point of reference
at all times. It is therefore understandable that in this part of the
country, concretely in the Archdiocese
of Gulu between 1986 and 2002 at least 66 catechists should have
been killed in the course of their ministry. The drama of these heroes
does not however discourage many others who still continue to come to
the training to take up the ministry.
At least there are still 630 working with ever stronger faith
to minister the word of God in the field and to reconcile with those
who do not agree with them.
By Joseph Okumu
Okelo (1902 ca.-1918) and Jildo Irwa (1906 ca.-1918)
were the Uganda Martyrs
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