Feast of Apolo Kivebulaya (May 30)   Leave a comment

Map (2)

Above:  The Borderlands of Uganda and Zaire, 1979

Image Source = The International Atlas (Rand McNally, 1979)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



Apostle to the Pygmies

Also known as Waswa Munubi

From the calendar of saints of The Church of England comes Apolo Kievebulaya, Apostle to the Pygmies, to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

The life of our saint began in the Kingdom of Buganda, on the northwest coast of Lake Victoria in Uganda.  Waswa Munubi, one of five children, entered the world circa 1864.  His parents raised him to become a traditional healer, but he became disillusioned after learning that a local healer was a fraud.  Our saint converted to Islam and became a soldier instead.  Arab traders had introduced Islam to Buganda.   Muteesa I (reigned 1856-1884), the Kabaka of Buganda, had political-military problems with them by 1875, when he began to accept European weapons and Christian missionaries of various denominations.

The life of a soldier did not fit our saint.  Alexander Murdoch Mackay (1849-1890), a missionary from the (Presbyterian) Free Church of Scotland, arrived in Buganda in 1878.  He labored for Christ in Africa until 1890, when he died of Malaria.  Among the people in whom Mackay planted the seed of faith was Waswa Munubi.  In time our saint deserted the army and fled to the region of Ankole.  While he was hiding out our saint began to read the Gospel of Matthew.  He reported that Matthew 5:13, about being the salt of the earth, proved especially influential in helping him decide to become a Christian.  In 1894 our saint began to prepare for baptism.  That sacrament occurred on January 27, 1895.  He took the name Apolo, after St. Apollos, who, according to Acts 18:24-25, was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures” and “fervent in the spirit.”

At first Apolo worked as a catechist after studying at Kampala.  He catechized in the Toro region in 1895 then at Nyagawi (near the Rwenzori Mountains) in 1895-1896.  In 1896 our saint became the catechist in Boga.  Apolo had to contend with major challenges.  He had to face hostility because of his opposition to certain traditional practices, such as polygamy and drinking.  Furthermore, Chief Tabaro forbade the construction of a church building.  Then, in 1898, Tabaro scapegoated Apolo.  The chief’s sister, living in Apolo’s household, had fallen accidentally on a spear and died.  Apolo faced legal charges and spent months in prison until the dismissal of those charges.  Then Tabaro welcomed Apolo back, befriended him, and converted to Christianity.

 Apolo’s next phase of ministry was as a member of the clergy.  He became an Anglican deacon on December 21, 1900, and a priest in June 1903.  He never married.  Our saint had been engaged, but his intended died.  Afterward Apolo concluded that life as a single man was most conducive to his vocation.  Our saint received the name “Kivebulaya,” meaning “European,” for he wore a suit underneath his vestments.  He worked hard for Jesus, converting many people.  Apolo was a man of the people in the borderlands of Uganda and the Belgian Congo.  He lived among them, slept in their homes, and ate the food they offered.  He traveled in western Uganda and the northeastern Belgian Congo (the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016).  A border adjustment in 1915 meant that Boga (and therefore Apolo’s home base) became part of the Belgian Congo.  Among the groups to which our saint introduced the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the Pygmies, starting in 1921.

Our saint died in Boga on May 30, 1933.





Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Apolo Kivebulaya,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Uganda and the Belgian Congo.

Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 96 or 96:1-7

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 716


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