Christian (Kiki) Gillain 1927 – 2017 (PE nr. 1083)

Christian, affectionately known by all as ‘Kiki’, was born into a large family on the 17th July 1927 in Antwerp, Belgium. He studied in the College St-Xavier in Antwerp before going on to College Leopold III and finishing his secondary education at the Institute Notre Dame in the Anderlecht area of Bruxelles. He entered the White Fathers in Thy-le-Chateau in 1947. He spent three years there, as he did not know any Latin! After novitiate in Varsenare, he was appointed to Eastview, Canada for theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath on the 18th June 1954 followed by ordination to the priesthood on the 29th January 1955 in Eastview near Ottawa. His professors were unanimous; Kiki was an excellent prospect. He was a hard worker, overflowing with ideas, entrepreneurial and a good organiser. He had a more practical than speculative bent and a little bit of being the eternal Boy Scout. He was high-spirited, never discouraged, agreeable in community, and he loved to tease. The big danger was that he would take too much on at the same time.

After celebrating his ‘First Mass’ in Antwerp on his return to Belgium after ordination, he had to spend some time at Louvain University in the guise of military service as a member of the military reserve of the Force Publique of the Belgian Congo! He was finally able to fly off to Uganda on the 8th July 1956.

Kiki joined the Diocese of Rubaga and was appointed curate in Mubende Parish followed by a stint at Vumba before returning as Parish Priest to Mubende in 1961. He was a witness to the ethnic tensions that afflicted the country prior to independence in 1962. Right from the beginning of his apostolate, Kiki enjoyed the strong support of his family who found all sorts of ways to fund his apostolic projects. At the request of Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka (+1966), Kiki extended his first home leave in 1963 to follow a one year catechetical course at Lumen Vitae in Bruxelles. However, the Belgium Province ‘kidnapped’ him for missionary promotion work despite the protestations of the Ugandan Regional who refused to let go of “one of his best superiors” and regardless of the intervention of the Archbishop himself. In Belgium, Kiki radiated out from Namur and then Thy-le-Chateau.

In 1964, with the cooperation of members of his family, Kiki founded a small NGO called “KIKIUGANDA” or officially “The Society of Friends of Christian Gillain of the White Fathers, Missionaries of Africa.” They financed many projects during Kiki’s active life such as primary schools at Mubende, dispensary, a secondary school, and a carpentry workshop at Nazigo. They also raised money to buy 200 bicycles for catechists and leaders of communities elsewhere.

In Belgium, Fr. Kamiel Plessers (+1993) the Provincial was full of praise for his new propagandist, “young, enthusiastic, gets through an awful lot of work, always on the move, very involved with a scout troop in Antwerp, also with student and family groups. He is a good preacher of retreats.” Once he had finished his service in the Province, during which he had done the Long Retreat in Villa Cavalletti near Rome in 1966, Kiki spent another year in Lumen Vitae before setting off once more for Uganda in February 1969. He became Parish Priest of Nakasongola and in January 1970, he was appointed PP of Nazigo. He stayed there until July 1975. He wrote to his friend Georges Eeckhout, “Here everything is great, physically I am exhausted; financially, I’m broke, but apart from that, everything goes very well Madame la marquise! The parish is advancing. This year, we are concentrating on training leaders. And it works! There are now small basic communities everywhere.” We should note that Kiki spoke Luganda very well.

At the beginning of July 1975, Kiki was appointed Director of the St. Matia Mulumba Catechetical Centre at Mityana. Idi Amin was in power. Kiki conceived the idea of offering each catechist a reliable bicycle. “I am looking for 1,000 bikes, not one less.” He succeeded thanks to the efforts of his friends in Antwerp. In September 1978, he was elected to the Regional Council and served on it for two terms. He took time out at the end of 1979, for a course at Arbresle in France and the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. When he returned to Uganda, he was appointed Parish Priest of Kisubi. He stayed there until November 1985. After a well-earned home leave, he was appointed PP of St Matthia Mulumba Parish situated in Old Kampala. The parish was named after one of the most famous of the Ugandan Martyrs who was killed at this place. Kiki resided at Lourdel House and each day commuted into the city. He was elected as deputy to the Chapter in 1986. He played tennis regularly to keep himself fit and made several climbing expeditions in the Ruwenzori Mountains.

Kiki was appointed Regional of Uganda in January 1987. At the time, the Region numbered 102 confreres. What struck people most was the great attention he gave to people, his great availability and his openness. A believer in communications, he installed a radiotelephone in Lourdel House. Among his priorities was a desire to deepen community life and promote missionary vocations. Under his administration, the process for the canonization of Fr. Simon Lourdel, whom Kiki already venerated as a saint, was launched (1987). Interservice was transferred to Lourdel House, the Charismatic Renewal Centre saw the light of day and Sharing Youth Centre was solemnly blessed. He took part in the 1992 Chapter and he finished his second mandate as Regional at the end of June 1993. His successor wrote in the Ugandan Flash, “your administration will remain for all of us, a happy memory.”

In April 1994, Kiki returned to Old Kampala as curate. His final appointment in January 2002 saw him once more in the ‘bush’, to Kasambya Parish in the Diocese of Kiyinda. In October 2007, the White Fathers handed over the parish to the diocesan clergy and, given his state of health, Kiki returned to Belgium for good.

Kiki took up residence in rue Linthout in October 2007 but in April 2008, he was transferred to the St. Joseph Nursing Home in Evere. He was happy and cheerful, always in good humour and joking a lot even if his memory was increasingly playing him false. Uganda dominated his conversation especially the Baganda martyrs. He remained faithful to his motto, “Keep smiling, do your duty as if nothing had happened.” All went well until an unlucky fall hastened his death on the 2nd February 2017 at the Brugmann Hospital in Schaerbeek, Bruxelles. The farewell liturgy took place on the 8th February 2017 in the chapel of St. Joseph Nursing Home followed by burial in Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

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