Posted by catholicfaithdefender on September 25, 2009
If you walked on the streets of Kampala randomly asking people about miracles, most probably you would hear the name Fr. Bill many times. Even those who don’t know his name would possibly tell you about an Indian Catholic Priest who likes the phrase: “Thank you Jesus, praise you Jesus!”
When it comes to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Uganda, it’s impossible to miss out the name of this great man. He was a man that faithfully served God to the end. At this time when the memory of his loss is still fresh in our minds, I cannot fail to salute him for his life well lived. Of course I have mixed feelings – sadness over losing him and his ministry, but also the joy of having in heaven another saint, an intercessor who knows us!
I do not want to imply that what I am writing is a full biography about him; this article is just meant to give an idea to our readers of who Fr. Bill was, especially to us as the Church in Uganda. I hope this story inspires you to live your life better. Remember, life is a game with no return match; you have to live in the best way you can ever because you live it once.
His Birth and call into Priesthood
Rev. Fr. Dr. Joseph Kurupamparambil, V.C., commonly Known as Fr. Bill in Europe and Africa, was born on February 23rd 1928 in the diocese of Kerala in India. His father was Xavier Kurupamparambil, a businessman and his mother was Anne. Possibly at this time no one knew how his live was going to impact the Christian world.
At first, he wanted to join the police force, but later, at the advice of a close relative who was already a priest, he started to admire priesthood. He joined the seminary and in 1958 he was ordained into the priesthood. After his ordination, Fr. Bill worked in different capacities in his home diocese of Kerala, culminating into a long administrative position in the Church.
The Turning-Point in his Life
At 48 years of age, Fr. Bill suffered two severe heart attacks, which left him bedridden over the next 45 days. His doctor warned him to restrain form any strenuous activity, including climbing stairs or even preaching; he was only to live under regular medication in an attempt to stabilize his condition.
After these serious warnings from the doctors, this was a time to prepare for a happy death anytime. But, you know, when God has purposed to use you, he uses your challenges to demonstrate his power. It’s from your tests that he creates a testimony. Fr. Bill’s greatest test of sickness was soon to give birth to his greatest testimony!
In that same year, 1976, two priests who had gotten their training from the Duquesne University in the USA, which was then the center of the Charismatic Renewal Movement, came from Bombay to conduct a retreat at Mangalappuzha Pontifical Seminary, in central Kerala. It was a retreat for an exclusive audience comprised of 2 bishops and 162 priests from all over Kerala. On the final day of the five-day retreat, they convened a healing session and Fr. Bill, who had been assured by his doctors that his heart condition was irreversible also joined the line to be prayed over.
In the process, Bishop Sebastian Mankuzhikkary approached Fr. Bill and asked him what to pray for. “Your Excellency”, answered Fr. Bill, “I had two heart attacks. If cured, I would like to do some service for Jesus”. As he said this, his doctor’s words reverberated in his ears: “Father, you have just overcome two massive attacks. A third one can be fatal, so be careful!” It was a delicate moment in which God had to demonstrate his healing power.
Bishop Sebastian laid his hands on the head of Fr. Bill and prayed. As the prayer went on, Fr. Bill felt the Bishops touch, and immediately he realized he could no longer see the bishop but instead saw Jesus Christ! “It was a real shock for me”, recalled Fr. Bill in his writings. “Yes, he has touched me! At that time I saw Jesus Christ who came to this world two thousand years ago. I felt his touch and, gained a new strength in my heart. He has healed me to perfect health”. According to Fr. Bill’s testimony, the image of Jesus touching him remained alive in his heart for the rest of his life and this kept giving him an impetus to continually dedicate his life to the Savior.
Great doubt was witnessed when Fr. Bill presented himself before his consulting cardiologist. The test now showed a healthy heart, but still the physician protested, hoping it might be due to some error in the test, so Fr. Bill was asked to come back for another thorough check up after 5 days. Meanwhile, Fr. Bill was warned by the doctor not to stop his medicines, but he responded with thorough conviction: “My Heavenly Father, who has created my heart, can give me a new heart if the original one is damaged”. “Do not stop your medicines and thus risk your life” was the doctor’s only reply.
Five days later, the doctor performed the long-awaited check-up and again he could not find any problem with the heart! He suspected Fr. Bill had taken some other stronger medicines. “No other medicine except the touch of my Lord” declared Fr. Bill. At the end of all the analyses the doctor proclaimed in a voice filled with belief and fervor: “Father, your heart is now healthier than before. Now I believe, God has touched you and given you a new heart. I believe!” This marked the beginning of new life and new ministry for Fr. Bill.
Fr. Bill as an International Preacher
After all medical tests by his doctors showed that he had recovered, Fr. Bill demonstrated this miraculous healing by climbing a nearby hill. This proved beyond any shadow of doubt that his heart had been totally healed. God had completely restored him for a greater ministry of passing over this message of healing to the whole world. He had to look for ways of achieving this.
Fr. Bill then asked his superiors to relieve him of his administrative duties so that he could concentrate on preaching the word of God. He decided to first go to Pittsburg, USA, to study Faith Healing. At the end of this training, his first recorded healing miracle occurred in a Church in Boston when he prayed over a paralyzed person in a wheel chair. Immediately the person was totally restored to health and began to walk! This confirmed that Jesus wanted him to pray for the healing of God’s people and this he did since then to the time he departed.
Fr. Bill often organized 6-day healing retreats popularly known as “Popular Missions”. During these retreats, he concentrated on preaching about the love of Jesus and the Cross of Jesus, in relation to the healing of the human soul, mind and body. Initially, he did this in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, preaching to millions of people and as numerous testimonies continued to strongly confirm the special gift of healing and dynamic preaching that had been bestowed upon him, his travels extended to Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, S. America, East Indies, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world.
During his retreats and Healing Masses, lives were being transformed as people truly encountered Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. At the news of his death, most of the local newspapers in Uganda reported many extraordinary stories and testimonies about his ministry in all parts of the world. On different websites, numerous testimonies about miracles God has performed through Fr. Bill have also been displayed allover the world. They include healings from cancer, AIDS, fibroids, brain tumors, financial breakthroughs, the lame walking, barren women conceiving, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and several other extraordinary manifestation of God’s power.
His Superior General, Fr. Anthony Plackal, in the foreword to the book entitled “Jesus Touched me – Biography and Retreat Talks of Fr. Joseph K. Bill, V.C.M.A.”, said the following about Fr. Bill’s ministry: “… I have myself been an eye witness to the big crowds assembled to listen to the preaching of Fr. Bill and to join in the prayers led by him in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Two cardinals and a few Bishops in these countries have testified to me personally that Fr. Bill is a zealous and effective preacher. They told me that the special element they like in the preaching of Fr. Bill is his straight-forward and simple presentation of the Catholic teaching in the light of the Holy Gospel with clarity and certainty… People in all levels of social status come to listen to Fr. Bill. Ex-ministers, MLAs, doctors, engineers and ordinary people flock to him in programmes of Popular Missions, Retreats and also for personal counseling and guidance in life. I have noticed with my own eyes his joyous announcements, such as, ‘Jesus loves you’; and ‘the heaven is open for you today’, make people jump and dance with joy and hope in God Almighty…”
The following words appeared on http://frbillusa.net/, at the news of Fr. Bill’s death, to describe what a treasure to the world he was: “A beautiful, holy priest shining with the love of God, driven night and day to tell each of us how much God loves us, and then to extend Jesus’ healing touch and deliverance from all evils. He wore out his first heart at age 48, and then at age 80 wore out the second, stronger heart Jesus had given him in 1976”.
It is something amazing that, in his old age, Fr. Bill still traveled to all parts of the world and ate all kinds of foods without any problem. In fact, it is said that for the last 30 years of his earthly life, that is since the age of 48 when he experienced the heart problem which God healed, till he experienced the heart problem that ended his life, he never fell sick again except with one malaria, which according to him, was a message from God that he should pray for people who are being disturbed by malaria.
The ministry of Fr. Bill in Uganda
In 1993, while in India, Fr. Expedit Magembe was so touched by his experience when he met Fr. Bill and so Fr. Expedit decided to invite him to Uganda for the first time. When he came, he conducted a retreat at Kiziba Parish. In 1997, Fr. Bill started organizing Popular Missions at Namugongo and later, in many parts of Uganda. In every part of Uganda that he went, numerous testimonies about blessings, breakthroughs, favors, deliverance, victory, healing, empowerment and conversion always followed.
Fr. Bill’s ministry has had a lasting impact in the lives of many other priests known for ministering the word of God, miracles and healing in Uganda, like Fr. John Baptist Bashobora, Fr. Expedit Magembe, Fr. Anthony Musaala, Fr. James Burasa, Fr. Athanazius Musajjakkaawa and others. They all testify to the anointed ministry of this man of God. Even Dr. Cyprian Lwanga, Archbishop of Kampala, testified as having witnessed God using Fr. Bill to restore health to a mad person. The life and ministry of Fr. Bill has encouraged many Christians to seek and utilize the gifts that the Holy Spirit never ceases to give.
Fr. Bill’s constructed the Vincentian House, as well as the Miraculous Medal Shrine at Bugonga in Entebbe, where he has been rested. One reason he gave for constructing this house in Uganda is that he admired the courage of the Uganda martyrs. This is why he even chose Uganda martyrs Shrine in Namugongo as the venue for his retreats. I personally heard him a number of times saying he wished to die and be buried in Uganda. As the Church in Uganda, we cannot fail to appreciate Fr. Bill’s love for our motherland.
Fr. Bill was one of the first priests in Uganda to integrate the activities of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal into the daily life of the Catholic Church. For instance, many Ugandans first came to hear the phrase “Healing Mass” in relation to Fr. Bill’s ministry. He loved Mother Mary and said he always prayed at least 3 rosaries each day. This way, he inspired members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal as well as all Catholics to develop deeper devotion to the Mother of the Church. All these efforts contributed to the strengthening of the Catholic faith, at a time when the Church in Uganda is facing many challenges.
The Fr. Bill I knew
One thing I surely liked about Fr. Bill was his joy. He always smiled and asked his audience to praise Jesus in a short prayer: “Thank you Jesus! Praise you Jesus!” He was a man always radiant on his face. He never looked tired, though those who had a chance of staying with him say he used to spend most of the night not in his bed, but in prayer. At his advanced age, still this man of God would stand for several hours preaching, without showing any signs of fatigue.
I cannot also forget his jokes. During one program that I listened to on Radio Maria program, he was asked how he travels allover the world eating all kinds of foods at that advanced age and he replied: “My stomach is Catholic!” Also, in Namugongo, he told us of a joke that there was a sacristan who used to steal money from the Church and the priest who used to condemn that sacristan. When they died, both met in hell. “Father, how did you end up here?” asked the man. “Be quiet,” interrupted the priest, “the Bishop is also over there!” At such an advanced stage, very few people can be funny, but for Fr. Bill jokes were part of his ministry and indeed they moved his listeners.
Fr. Bill was a loving priest. In his retreats, he welcomed everyone as they are. In one of his retreats in Namugongo, the first lame person to walk was a Muslim! When he went to Kabale, at first the people from other faiths spoke negatively about the whole idea, but in the evenings they kept going near to listen. In the end, having listened to his message of love, so many of them came to openly participate and they acknowledged his special gift. I also recall how, out of his own initiative, late last year, he came to the parliament of Uganda and asked the Speaker to arrange for a prayer in which he prayed for all Members and Staff of Parliament as well as the whole nation of Uganda. All this was out of love for Uganda. He often said that at his age he would have loved to be in a good house, in India, eating good food and not being bothered by unending journeys, but because of the love of God, he couldn’t but preach the gospel to all creation.
Unusual Events Surrounding his Departure
Fr. Bill’s last retreat was in Gulu District. During this retreat, he prophesied about his death before it actually came. On Wednesday, during his last preaching on earth, he said he had always been praying that he may die in Uganda and that he may also be buried in Uganda. Of course he was saying this at a time when no body knew that in the next 2 hours he would be gone.
In his preaching that day, he emphasized that he was ready to go to heaven and that that’s why he had traveled all the way to northern Uganda to preach the good news in a place where there has been a lot of blood shed. He remarked: “Blood was shed for us, so we also have to die for Jesus”. This statement was really prophetic and it was fulfilled when his body spent 7 hours bleeding after death. In truth, Fr. Bill died for Jesus. In fact this reminds me of St. Paul’s words that to live is to live for Christ and to die is to die for Christ.
It is also surprising that when those around him talked about taking him to hospital, after getting the attack on his heart, he refused saying he will die from that room since he is dying for the Jesus he believes in and praises. In fact, when they insisted, he departed while trying to reach him to the hospital. He went to eternity on Friday, March 14th 2008, 2am Ugandan time. From 2pm when he died, to 9am in the morning of Friday, his body was bleeding; something that shocked the doctors as they could not easily explain it scientifically. The doctors were also surprised that, though he was dead, his blood was fresh and the pressure like that of a living person! There was indeed something extra-ordinary about this holy man’s death.
I have also noticed that there is a striking relationship among the major dates in Fr. Bill’s life – they all seem to all have an 8 in them. He was born in 1928, he was ordained a Priest in 1958, he got the first heart experience at the age of 48 and he went home in 2008! It is also astonishing that his burial was on March 19th 2008, which is the feast of St. Joseph, his patron saint. In other words, Fr. Bill’s body was buried on his feast day! It’s simply amazing.
Our Hope is Built on the Rock!
Jesus said that he is the Resurrection and Life, whoever believes in him shall live even when he dies! This is the unconquerable hope we have in Christ. We are not unbelieving ‘believers’; we believe in the resurrection of the dead and so we join our prayers in surrendering the soul of Fr. Bill to our loving creator.
I must confess that, as I wrote this article, I felt afraid of using the term “death” in reference to Fr. Bill and so I minimized it as much as possible. I kept using “Departure” instead. It was because to me, Fr. Bill’s was not really death but resting. And I would not be surprised if his congregation soon or later brought up a cause for his canonization as Saint. This is a man who gave his best to his Savior, to the extent of dying while serving him. Indeed we are cerebrating his life and not merely mourning his death.
The departure of Fr. Bill left me with several unanswered questions. Have I been doing my best to bring the message of Christ to the people I have access to? If I were to live to the age of 80, like Fr. Bill did, would I, at that old age, still be having the zeal to move in all parts and to stand for many hours in order to bring souls to Christ? If I died today, would people testify about me like they are testifying about Fr. Bill? Maybe this is a time for us to reflect on what we have been doing (or not doing) for Christ. Fr. Bill has left a challenge to you and I; it’s upon us to see to it that, irrespective of our position, we have impacted the world before our day comes, so that we shall happily say: “Lord, I did my best”.
REFLECTION: “Life passes away so quickly that we ought to think more of how to die than how to live” (St. Teresa of Avila).