Kuywee Catholic Zone Choir Memorial Day Celebration: 3rd July 2022

The Christians of Kalongo Catholic Parish flocked to Kuywee Catholic Chapel ground to celebrate the lives of thirty-two young choir members of Kuywee Chapel who were rounded up and massacred on the 3 July 1987 by the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) of Alice Lakwena as they prepared for their audition ahead of the competition that was ongoing in Kalongo Parish.

The Christians of Kuywee have since July 2017 organized memorial celebrations for these fallen faithful who died in the line of duty to the Lord. The annual commemorations were briefly interrupted by Covid-19 in the last couple of years.

The main celebrant for this memorial service was Fr. Ramon Vergas the Parish Priest of Kalongo Catholic Parish who was flanked by a number of catechists. The mass was animated by the combined choirs of Kalongo Catholic Church and Kuywee Chapel as well as students of Omiya Pacwa Seed Secondary School.

The congregation that numbered more than one thousand people came from the various chapels in and around Kalongo Parish, but most notably those who came in big numbers were from the areas where these martyred young men hailed from. In attendance was the Area MP Agago North Constituency Hon. Okot John Amos (who was also born in Kuywee sub-county), Local Council V. Vice Chairman Agago District Hon. Ocana Morris and Councillor Wol sub-county, and other district and local officials as well as other faithful from within and outside the community.

In his homily, Fr. Ramon emphasised that God lives amongst us and this he said is manifested in the many disciples stretching from the priests, religious, the laity, parents and all who profess the Christian faith. He said that the choir members who were massacred were disciples of God and they died for the right course rejecting the evil deeds even when they faced death. He, therefore, encouraged the Christians to emulate the young men and remain steadfast in their faith in Jesus Christ. He also said we should be wary of some people who distort the word of God and mislead people like Alice Lakwena of the HSM.

Hon. Ocana Morris the Vice Chairman  Agago District also echoed this sentiment; he discouraged the congregation from jumping from one ‘Christian’ church to the other in the name of searching for Christ and the right church, he said such a tendency often drives one into cultism as it happened with Alice Lakwena, Severino Lokoya and Joseph Kony. He noted that recent research whose findings are documented and he was made privy to, shows that from 26 June 1986 up to two hundred and thirty-two people were massacred in the greater Wol alone during the insurgency of the Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) of Alice Lakwena and the Lords Resistance Movement (LRA) of Joseph Kony.

Hon. Ocana Morris also took the opportunity to remind the congregation to participate and contribute towards the beatification of Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli who died on 27 March 1987 following the forceful closure of the Kalongo Hospital a month earlier. He implored the congregation and the community at large to emulate Fr. Dr Ambrosoli who did not segregate against anybody, he lived and died in the service of humanity especially the sick and the destitute and therefore we need to begin to practice and live his exemplary behaviour. Fr. Dr Joseph Ambrosoli is due to be beatified on 20 November 2022 in Kalongo, Agago District.

The Area MP Hon. Okot John Amos also weighed in on the significance of this Memorial Day, he praised the fallen young men for their faith and courage to withstand the evil of Alice Lakwena by rejecting her ways and surrendering their lives in praise of God for which they paid the ultimate price of death.

The MP decried that many of our people who are killed like these martyred choir members are never given befitting burials (i.e bringing the body home and burying in a properly prepared grave) as the Acoli tradition dictates that anybody who dies in war or at the hands of enemies, the cadaver is not brought home but rather crudely buried; no grave is sunk, the body is left on the earth surface and covered with weeds and shrubs in the wilderness.

He appealed to the community, especially the elders to embrace the way of the bible if we claim to be Christians; some of the archaic traditional practices ought to be abandoned, especially in regards to giving the last respect to those who have fallen in battle at the hands of the enemy or killed in cold blood by enemies.

It is important that the dead are brought home and given befitting burials in “properly prepared graves”, he went ahead to quote verses 2 Samuel chapter 12: verses 19-23, 2 Kings chapter 23 verse 29 and 1 Chronicles chapter 10 verse 12 that helps us in handling situations of death and how to treat the dead. On a positive note, he made mention that some clans of the Acoli people have reformed from this ancient practice, he nevertheless, reiterated the need to examine and modify or abandon some backward elements of our cultural practices and embrace more acceptable dignified ones where necessary.

Hon. Okot John Amos also advised the young people to refrain from joining rebellions that in most cases lead to loss of lives. He also urged the community to guard against and shun false prophets who come in the name of Christ but in essence have devilish agenda with devastating consequences like what has been experienced in the aftermath of the Alice Lakwena and others where so many people were negatively affected and many lost their lives including the choir members being remembered and celebrated today.

The Chairperson Central Organising Committee Mr Anywar Kennedy outlined their vision to renovate the chapel and make extension to allow for more space as currently, the church has a limited capacity that is only able to accommodate about two hundred and fifty people; the plan is to make an extension that is able to accommodate at least one thousand people. The committee also planned to solicit funds to construct a temporary structure that is able to provide shelter for pilgrims who would come to pray at the shrine of these martyred choir members and possibly to fence the whole churchyard in the mid to long term.

The sequence of events leading to the massacre of the choir members on 3 July 1987

Alice Lakwena the leader of the Holy Spirit Movement lured and indoctrinated a lot of the young men and women who believed her to be the real Lakwena (messenger) and therefore willingly enlisted in her rank and file. The modus operandi of the war machine was quite unconventional and outrightly medieval; Lakwena brainwashed her conscripts into believing that a piece of rock once blessed by her could blast like a hand grenade against the enemy while clapping her hands and singing “wan wayee… wan wayee ni Christo oto Christo ocer Christo bi’dwogo…” loosely translated “We believe… We believe that Christ has died Christ is risen and Christ will come again…”; the fighters would then be immune from enemy bullets. At this time also Lakwena prohibited the eating of honey and sheanut oil as well as adultery which was strongly emphasised and believed that, if this directive is followed, no harm would come your way.

These young Christians were initially conscripted into the rank and file of the Lakwena forces through deceit and the high level of hopelessness that existed at that point in time. The choir members then out of curiosity and a sense of belonging decided to also join being captivated by the praise song “we believe that Christ has died …is risen.. and will come again” which was a kind of anthem of the Lakwena forces.

No sooner had they joined than realisation donned on them that this was a devilish organisation whose teachings and practices were not commensurate to the conservative Catholic doctrine. They decided to escape and return to the Catholic Church and participate in the ongoing preparations for the competition that was organised by Kalongo Catholic Parish.

When Alice Lakwena was briefed about the escape of these choir members, she ordered her loyal forces to arrest and return them to base. The Lakwena forces then set off on their mission to recapture the young men who were easily located practising for the competition and praising the Lord in the various chapels within Kuywee and Wol zone.  They were rounded up and forced to return to her base at Biwang in Arum Sub-County but they rejected and continued with their practice for the event of the church.

A mini fundraising that was done after the mass for the shelter and fence was able to raise One hundred thirty-nine thousand three hundred shillings (139,300ugx). The area MP Hon. Okot John Amos who is a born of Kuywee donated one hundred fifty thousand (150,000ugx) and an additional seven hundred thousand shilling (700,000ugx) towards the function of the day. In addition, the family of one of the victims – choir trainer Alphonse Amone donated a bench. The MP Hon. Okot pledged further to support the process that would eventually lead to the realisation of this vision.

Among this group were two choir trainers; Amone Alphonse the main trainer in Kuywee chapel. The one notable song he is remembered for is; “Tipu maleng Cwiny maleng Adunu pa Yesu…” meaning Holy Spirit, Sacred Heart of Jesus”.

Another Choir Trainer was Phillip Kidega Akweny of Toroma chapel who is remembered for his song in the Latin language; Nomendui sisumum nomen Amoris”. Kuywee and Wol zone were at this time selecting their best and runner-up to front in the competition that was slated to take place in Kalongo.

The Holy Spirit Movement had at this time engaged in a major operation to strengthen its forces and the escape of these young choir members coincided with this activity. In Kalongo a number of the HSM forces converged to Kalongo where they took in about 68 people they had arrested in the operation, forcing them into the classrooms of St. Teresa Girls School Kalongo where they were brutally murdered on that same day of 3 July 1987.

The HSM group that was assigned to the areas of Wol and Kuywee arrested the thirty-two young men among others from Kuywee, Apil, Kalaki, Jaii, Lamoo Masai, Toroma and Wol; the majority of them were murdered in the villages in and around Parabongo.

The thirty-two choir members who were murdered came mainly from the then Parabongo and Wol sub-counties as listed in the table below.

 Alphonse AmoneKuywee
 Anjelo OpogoKuywee
 Charles Ojok LukudamoiKuywee
 Charles LuceroKuywee
 Phillip OkotKuywee
 Banya LukurweeKuywee
 Robert OwinyJaii
 Alfeo OworKalaki
 Massimino OworKuywee
 Thomas OlangoApil
 Jino OlanyaApil
 Micheal OlwochToroma
 Makario LuletRogo
 Julius OkemaWol Kico
 John OkumuParabongo Tek
 Yasinto OromaLodigo
 Albino OdongoJaii
 Geoffrey OkelloApil
 Isidoro OkulluKuywee
 Charles OkotKuywee
 Ceaser OkenyParabongo Tek
 David Ocana LutukLamo Masai
 LugenyOdong Kicel
 Aldo KidegaToroma
 Vasco Dagama OyooToroma
 Livingstone OkelloLamo Masai
 Harry Odong LiraKuywee
 Baptist Odong OlumKuywee
 Baptist OlwochToroma
 Kenneth OkidiJaii
 Joseph OkelloLamo Masai
 Anthony OpwaJaii

Kuywee Trading centre is located in Kuywee sub-county which is located in Agago North constituency, about 6kms to the west of Kalongo Town council along Kitgum road. The sub-county has an estimated population of about 8,000 people, predominantly Catholic with a few from other religious denominations.

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