To the church, Monsignor Albert Michael Muwowo was a pillar of priesthood and leader that was Bishop Zuza’s Vicar General during his entire 20 years of Episcopate plus 1.5 years post that as Diocesan Administrator himself. Yet, to the family, Monsignor Muwowo or ‘a Vika’, as he was fondly referred to by the family – was an anchor – a great uncle to many including me. We all looked to him for hope, wisdom, joy and happiness.
I am a product of the church – in many ways. Without the mentorship of my great seminary teacher Bishop Ryan, I would not have found my way into higher education and become what I am. But before I met Bishop Ryan in form 2 at the seminary, my role models were my two uncles, Fr Martin Anewel Mtumbuka and Fr. Albert Michael Muwowo, who later became Bishop and Monsignor respectively.
The late Msgr. Muwowo was a cousin of my mother. He schooled with my mother from standard 1 at Mbuzinandi Primary school in Nyika and due to long distance from his village, he at times stayed with mum’s parents nearer the school. Both were taught by my dad in upper classes. This was foundation and basis for my big connections with him personally.
In my early childhood, he used to come to our house at Kawaza Primary School on his motor bike each time he was going and coming back from Jumbi – some 5 kms away to see his then aging parents in the late 1980s. In 1990, when I was in standard 6, my parents were transferred to teach at Jumbi Primary school, near his new village after the relocation of all Nyika people in 1976.
This enabled me to form a very close relationship with Msgr Muwowo. There was and still is Runyina River between the school and his village and back then, there was no proper bridge. He would leave his motor bike, sometimes car at our house and I would carry his bags escorting him across the river. Each October, and it had to be October, he came to his village for one month holiday. After classes, around 2 pm I would go to his house and chat with him till around 4:30 pm every day during his holidays. His priest friends particularly late Fr. Kauteka who was his peer at St. Anne’s Parish (Chilumba) at the time and the late Fr. Ludaka who was Parish Priest at the local St. Denis Parish in Rumphi would often visit him at the village and I would be the errand boy taking them there with joy.
Through Fr. Muwowo, I came to know priests much closer and better. I found out that priests had immense friendship, which I never saw in the secular world. The jokes and stories they shared were one of the many things that amplified my early desire to become a priest like my uncle Bishop Mtumbuka. Indeed, when time for seminary entrance exams was up in June 1992, late Fr. Ludaka came on a motorbike 25 kms to our school to give me the notice and invitation to go to the parish for the exam – a move without which I would have missed the exam and not be what I am today. The root of it is that Fr. Ludaka was aware through my interactions with him and Fr. Mwuwo that I wanted to become a priest. So, Monsignor Muwowo did play a significant role, indirectly to influence my early and pivotal education and development. And this he did to many of his nephews and nieces. Aaron Luhanga, his first cousin, who is an expert and professional in the social development arena is a visible example.
When I was in Form 2 at St. Patrick’s Seminary, he invited me spend time at his parish, St. Anne’s Parish at Vinthukutu in Chirumba. I stayed there with him for about a month, experiencing parish life. That I did not become a priest is no fault on his try to nurture my then very strong vocation!
In 1995, when Fr. Joseph Mukasa Zuza became Bishop of Mzuzu Diocese, he picked Fr. Muwowo as his Vicar General – meaning ‘number 2 to the Bishop’. He was to hold that office until the death of Zuza in 2015. They were very close friends and supported each other well. Again the kind of deep friendship he had with late Frs. Kauteka, Ludaka and others was visible in the stories and jokes they shared with the late Bishop.
This was so because Monsignor Muwowo loved simplicity. He never wanted or lacked much in life. He only sought peace, joy and happiness, mostly through human interaction and prayer intercessions with God the Father. And he kept his faith to win the ultimate prize in the next life and I have total belief that he has gained the ultimate prize he fought for and kept faith for, for a long time, Like St. Paul wrote in his second epistle to Timothy in Chapter 6.
I remember in 2002 when I had completed my engineering studies at the Poly and wedded and three weeks later I was to go for my postgraduate studies. Together with my ‘brand new wife’, I went to Katoto, the Bishop’s residence, to say goodbye to him. He gave me a lot of advice, hinged on the need to keep the faith and to keep to my values even if in ‘faith-weakened’ Europe.
As he was driving us to the bus depot, he told me a very deep statement: “Matthews, I love my vocation. I love my priesthood. There is nothing that gives me more joy than to serve the Lord and being Catholic. I want do die this same way.” It was a very deep statement and touched me. He spoke with rare conviction, joy and solemnity.
Msgr Muwowo’s background was nearly improbable for priesthood. First, that he got educated in the situation where he was is a miracle in itself. Secondly, none of his relatives and not even his parents were Catholic at the time. Thirdly, by the time he was ready to write entrance exams, he was too old, 24 years old. My father keeps saying the Church should be grateful to his then boss the Headmaster of Mbuzinandi Primary School, the Late Mr. Cypriano Luhanga who never gave up convincing the missionary priests to discount the age of Albert Michael Muwowo arguing he was ‘a very special student, with great discipline and all attributes of a future good priest.”
In fact, each time I met the lat Themba la Mathemba Chikulamayembe – the Themba said he had never seen students as disciplined, committed and loyal like Bishop Martin Mtumbuka and Msgr. Muwowo because every week, he saw and met one of them walking up and down the hills from Nyika to collect mail at Bolero Post Office. Using the normal road, this is a distance of approximately 115 kms but they used the short cut across the forest – probably in the region of 40 to 60 kms each way! If the Holy Spirit chooses priests (and surely He does), then the cases of these two great priests are good examples!
It was no surprise to me and many that in 2018, the Pope appointed Muwowo a permanent Monsignor – a very rare title given to priests that have served the church with unwavering dedication and commitment, consistently over a long time. We had a big celebration at Mzambazi Parish in Mzimba and we were all overjoyed. His first cousin Aaron Luhanga and I, both influenced and inspired by him in our early education, desired that we take the celebration to the village in Jumbi where we organized a great and memorable event with a view to inspire many more young ones to aim high – to serve the Lord or in the world.
When I visited the hospital to see Msgr. Muwowo last Friday and Saturday, on both occasions I met two of his brothers Mr. Vwerekete Muwowo and Mr. Mkondwenge Muwowo as well as the two sisters Mrs. Chirambo and Mrs. Kadusha Munthali. All very somber – not sure how the whole thing would end, because he was an anchor of the family. No words could give them strength except when you mentioned what their brother loved most – prayer. On both occasions, I also met the vibrant and development conscious priest Fr. John Benjamin Moyo, the man that was ordained together with Muwowo in 1985 at Katete Parish near Jenda.
Fr. Moyo said two important things to me. First, he told me how he could not afford to lose a friend they joined priesthood together 35 years ago and he said “add 7 years of being classmates at Kachebere and St. Peters Major Seminary, that makes 42 years.” Fr. Moyo told me that he never passed by the Jenda road without branching off to Katete Parish for a cup of tea and stories with his friend Muwowo. Secondly, he said “People may not understand but Muwowo simply loved Katete Parish.” His history shows that Muwowo was posted to five Parishes i.e. St. Anne’s Parish in Chirumba, St. Peter’s Cathedral in Mzuzu and THREE times at Katete Parish – soon after his ordination, just before he became Vicar General and then his final Parish and where he was appointed Monsignor.
Monsignor Muwowo liked to keep to things he knew best and loved most. For places, they were basically four. First is Nyika, then Jumbi his villages. Next are Katete and Katoto. When Bishop Ryan took over as Head of the Diocese, Monsignor Muwowo stayed with the new bishop for a few months transition. Later when he was given a sabbatical leave, he chose to go home to the village in Jumbi where he stayed for nearly one year in 2017. Right in the village!!
During that time, he served the surrounding catholic communities. Looking back, one wouldn’t be faulted to say the spirit sent him there to say goodbye to his loved ones. Surely, I was a little puzzled with his choice for sabbatical leave. I had thought he would choose Rome, Israel, or Ireland, Canada, Germany and such like historically Catholic places. But the Monsignor chose to spend time with his brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces – and neighbours.
It is clear that Msgr. Muwowo was not just a pillar of the church but also an anchor of the family. We have suffered a double loss here. His gap will be difficult to fill on both sides but surely far more difficult on the family side.
I am saddened to see him gone too soon. And so sad not to be able to see my great uncle on his last mile as I am currently thousands of miles away. Go thee well uncle Monsignor Muwowo. We loved you so much but God loved you more! Mwende makora, tizamuwonana!!!!! (Travel well – see you again!!)
By Mathews Mtumbuka