Rwandan priest who celebrated Masses in diocese dies

Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga dies of complications from COVID-19

ALLOUEZ — Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, 65, a priest from the Diocese of Cyangugu, Rwanda, who was a familiar face to Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay, passed away Jan. 7 due to complications from COVID-19.

The announcement of Fr. Ubald’s death came on the Facebook page that he created to share his healing ministry. According to IGIHE news, a website based in Kigali, Rwanda, Fr. Ubald was receiving treatment at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, a priest from Rwanda, is pictured in a file photo from 2016 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. Fr. Ubald passed away Jan. 8. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“Fr. Ubald passed peacefully last night at 11:17 p.m. mountain time into the hands of his loving savior Jesus and his mother in heaven Mary,” the announcement said. “He fought the good fight. He is in the glory with God and we have a new intercessor in heaven. Fr. Ubald pray for us.”

The Rwandan priest was known worldwide for his preaching on forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation. He spoke from the heart, having survived the 1994 genocide in his native Rwanda that killed some 800,000 people, including more than 80 members of his family.

“For me, forgiveness is a gift from God,” Fr. Ubald told The Compass in 2016. He said his ethnic Tutsi background targeted him for persecution by the Hutu majority throughout his childhood. 

Among family members killed during the genocide was his mother. She was murdered on April 17, 1994. The mayor who ordered her killing, among many others, was sentenced to prison in Rusizi, Rwanda.

“I forgave the murderer of my mother,” Fr. Ubaldi told The Compass. “What I can say about forgiveness is that, without mercy, forgiveness isn’t right. If we forgive, we have to be merciful. If you are not merciful to that one who made wrong to you, it means that your forgiveness is not complete. No, you are a hypocrite.”

Not only did Fr. Ubald forgive the man responsible for his mother’s death, he also supported the man’s children.

“His wife died when he was in prison and … when his children were without anybody to take care of them, I made the decision to adopt them, to take care of them,” the priest said.

Fr. Ubald paid for schooling for the boy and girl. Today, the young man is a construction worker and the young woman was set to graduate from medical school. “I praise God I have had no experience of hatred or revenge,” he said in a 2019 interview. “I have forgiven and I have been merciful.”

Fr. Ubald was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late October, according to his Facebook page.

“He is getting all the necessary support and medical attention for him to have a speedy recovery. As soon as he is feeling back on his feet he will resume his Facebook live rosary,” an Oct. 20 post on his  Facebook page stated. “In the meantime, continue to pray for him, yourself and for healing.”

The priest’s death was reported in his country’s newspaper, The New Times of Rwanda, on Jan. 8.

“Renowned Catholic priest Ubald Rugirangoga succumbed to respiratory complications on the morning of Friday, Jan. 8, in Utah state, United States where he was hospitalized since October last year,” the news report stated.

Celestin Hakizimana, the Bishop of Gikongoro Diocese and Apostolic Administrator of Cyangugu Diocese where Fr. Rugirangoga was serving, said that the deceased had been healed from COVID-19, but was suffering from side effects of the virus, mainly lung complications, which is the suspected cause of his death,” the newspaper reported.

IGIHE news reported that friends of Fr. Ubald believe the priest contracted COVID-19 virus while offering a healing service in Green Bay in early October 2020. However, the priest had also traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Chicago around the same time, so there is no way to determine where he contracted the virus.

At the behest of Bishop David Ricken, who was introduced to Fr. Ubald while serving as bishop of Cheyenne, Wyo., Fr. Ubald held parish missions and celebrated healing Masses around the Green Bay Diocese in March 2019.

Fr. Ubald occasionally celebrated healing services at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. “We have always considered Fr. Ubald part of our extended family at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help,” said Corrie Campbell, Shrine communications director and events coordinator. 

“The strong presence of Mary that drew Fr. Ubald to Champion inspired him to immediately begin spreading the message of Our Lady of Good Help,” added Campbell. Since 2015, he made semi-annual visits to the shrine to celebrate Masses with eucharistic healing prayer services, which drew more than 25,000 to Champion over the past five years.

“The Fathers of Mercy and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help are grateful Fr. Ubald felt called to Champion. We were blessed to have concelebrated many Masses with him,” said Father of Mercy John Broussard, shrine rector. “Fr. Ubald’s eucharistic healing prayer services and his ministry of preaching healing through forgiveness provided peace and healing to thousands, many of whom claimed graces through prayers here on site and remotely when he prayed the rosary from Champion.”

Fr. Broussard added that the shrine will hold, at a later date, a Mass “for the repose of the soul of Fr. Ubald.”

In 2015, he was selected as “Protector of Friendship Pact” (“Umurinzi w’Igihango”) for “outstanding contribution promoting unity and reconciliation among Rwandans across the country.”