Thursday, October 27, 2011

Katire and Narnia

It was a real joy for us to be back in Katire, and the people seemed to be happy, too. John, the catechist, has done a great job at organizing and forming the community. Things are always well prepared for Mass. He also serves as translator when necessary, as in the video above in which he translates my words into the distinctive version of Arabic spoken among the different tribes of South Sudan.

Watching the documentary on the life of local hero, Fr. Saturnino Ohure.
In addition to being able to borrow our old car, we were also able to borrow the television we formerly had to show videos outdoors in settings like Katire. After Mass we showed the new short videos on Fr. Saturnino Ohure and Torit catechist, Gabriel, produced by our Polish film crew friends for Catholic Radio and Television with support of Aid to the Church in Need. The second short film had some scenes of Gabriel teaching in Katire, something that really delighted the congregation. These were followed by a longer 3D animated film on the Ten Commandments. Alice, one of our youth who accompanied us, translated that video into Arabic as people watched.

This little girl wasn't too interested in the video,
but she was still pretty cute.
I have to admit that I was pretty delighted, too, to be able to show these inspirational films both in Katire, and later that day at Mercy House in Torit. There we showed the third film in The Chronicles of Naria series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to a packed house. I remember the sense of wonder that I had as a child reading those books by C. S. Lewis, and it's renewed in me when I see the wonder on the faces of these children as they watch stories from the Bible, or the lives of the saints, or other works of Christian literature come to life before their eyes. Our  hope is that it will open their hearts in wonder to the greatest and most beautiful Mystery: God Himself.

Children captivated by the Chronicles of Narnia at Mercy House.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Travelling in Torit - Another Full Weekend!

This past weekend, October 22-23, was another one full of activity for us. On Saturday morning a small number of youth gathered (though the number grew as we began to move) to visit the home of one of our former members. We wound our way through the back streets and paths that weave between bamboo fenced compounds of multiple tukuls (huts) to arrive at our destination. It was a beautiful day, but hot! Which left me all the more impressed at the mobility of Joseph, above, who walks with amazing dexterity assisted by crutches.

The home we visited was a good way outside of town. Maynor and I continued even further out to the Torit offices of AVSI (Association of International Volunteers), and NGO (non-goverhmental organization) connected with the Catholic movement, Communion and Liberation (CL). That's why we decided to travel back into town via "boda-boda," i.e. motorcycle taxi. Maynor can be a little sneaky at times. He recorded this video without my being aware. Apart from the bumpy roads, the reason why it's so shaky is that he's riding on a boda-boda, too.

We met with a larger group of the youth that afternoon. The next morning we were off again early, this time into the mountains to the village of Katire, where I often celebrated Mass when I was living here. We were even able to use our former vehicle, the Mary Mobile, which almost seemed to know the way by heart.

We were once again overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains, now at the end of the rainy season in their lushest and most verdant foliage.

It was also encouraging to see the signs of development along the way, including a new school, railings on bridges, and the new Payam (District) Administrator's office under construction (below) near the center of Katire village.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Local Outreach Activities in Torit

Dr. Will shares youth ministry experiences with the St. Daniel Comboni Missionary Youth.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, almost from the moment of our arrival we began  to meet with the youth with whom I had worked intensively during the past three years. We have typically met several times a week for different purposes:  faith formation and discussion, Eucharistic Adoration and Lectio Divina, and outreach to others: the general public and young children. At the gathering above the youth wanted to hear about Dr. Will's experiences as a youth minister in his parish in Virginia. At a gathering last Wednesday, Isaac (below, left) shared about his recently completed six month program in discipleship and evangelization at Emmaus Center in Katikamu, Uganda - made possible by the benefactors of our missionary outreach.

Isaac (left) listens as Hellen (center) asks a question.
During our visit to Torit we re-initiated our regular Sunday afternoon Catholic film showing for the general public at Mercy House. Since the meeting room we had used previously is now unavailable, our only choice was the chapel. After reverently reserving the Blessed Sacrament temporarily in another place, we made a screen out of a bamboo frame and a white bed sheet. Maynor snapped the photo below as we carried the bamboo from the market to Mercy House.

On Sunday, October 16th, we showed two newly released videos produced for Catholic Radio and Television by a Polish film crew (whose visit I helped to coordinate in November 2009 - click here to see more) under the patronage of Aid to the Church in Need. The short films were documentaries about local hero Fr. Saturnino Ohure - a strong supporter of the Southern Sudanese Catholic resistance to the forced Islamization and Arabization imposed by the north in the 1960s, and the other telling the story of Gabriel - a local catechist. We followed these with a video about the Blessed Virgin Mary, since October is the month of the Rosary.

About 150 people filled the chapel and overflowed onto the street (above), with some standing across the street (below) to try to glimpse the film over the heads of those crowding around the door. The next day, Monday, we showed the first half of the animated film about Moses, The Prince of Egypt  - significant for it's setting in Africa, to a smaller group of young children.

Dr. Will's limited vacation time prevented him from staying with us for the entire time we will be in South Sudan, but before he left for Nairobi on a missionary flight to continue on to the US we paid a courtesy call to His Lordship, Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek, to thank him for his hospitality in welcoming us back to the Diocese.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


On Sunday, October 16, we traveled to the town of Lowoi, about 50 km (31 miles) east of Torit. It used to take more than two hours to make that trip, but because of significant improvements on the Juba Road, we made it in just about an hour.

As in the case of many communities in South Sudan, the people of Lowoi suffered a great deal during the war. Most of them relocated from the village's original site at the base of the mountain to safer refuges in the hills. But now that there is peace, many have relocated to their traditional location. The parish church of St. Peter Claver remains structurally intact, but the roof beams and sheet metal were removed during the conflict and used for other purposes.

The roofless St. Peter Claver Church in Lowoi.
Thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, work is already underway to construct new metal trusses to put a new roof on the church building. Additional support will be needed, however, to obtain the metal sheeting and cement that will be needed to complete that phase, as well as other building materials to complete the repairs.

Fr. Joseph Ochan, pastor of St. Peter Claver Parish in Lowoi,
standing at the entrance of the church.

The interior of St. Peter Claver Church.
Although he wasn't expecting us that morning, Fr. Joseph Ochan welcomed us warmly when we arrived, and even asked me to be main celebrant and homilist for the Mass. We had visited Lowoi on several previous occasions, and conducted a parish mission there with the help of a visiting team in June of 2010 (click here to see earlier posts about Lowoi from the CFR Sudan Mission blog).

The "ceiling"  of the sanctuary of the church.
In addition to repairing the parish church, Fr. Ochan is also hoping to refurbish the former priests' residence (below) in the village.

The remaining structure of the former priests' rectory in Lowoi.
We hope to return to Lowoi for additional evangelization activities in some of the parish's outlying settlements on the next mission trip to South Sudan in May 2012.

George and Elizabeth of the St. Daniel Comboni Missionary Youth in Torit
accompanied us on the visit to Lowoi to encourage the local community.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Development at "The Mission" on the Outskirts of Torit

One of the first people we ran into on the street in Torit after we arrived last week was Lillian, from Radio Emmanuel, the local Catholic station. After chatting a little, she asked if I would record the homily for the coming Sunday's broadcast, which I was happy to do. So I made the short trip out to the site known as "the mission" on the outskirts of town, where the radio station is located behind the ruins of the cathedral. I lived at this site for the first five months of my previous assignment in Torit.

After completing the recording, I walked around the ample grounds of "the mission," and was surprised to see the amount of construction and development that had taken place in the nine months since my departure. Unused buildings had been renovated and renovated buildings had been improved, such as the one above - now being used by the NGO Shelter for Life.

The shelter where the cathedral parish meets for Sunday Mass (above) had also been improved. It was originally constructed to be the stage or platform where the main events for the celebration of the Diocese of Torit's 25th anniversary in December of 2008 had taken place. Now there is a larger area under permanent roofing with more solid suppports.

The minor seminary of the Diocese of Torit.
I was most encouraged, though, to see the diocese's minor seminary complete and functioning. The building above has dormitories, a dining room and a chapel (below).

Minor Seminary chapel.
A few of the seminarians were around on the Saturday morning I happened to stop by, and I was very happy to recognize a number of their faces from youth retreats we had done in Nimule and Isohe. Please pray for these young men as they continue on their journey of formation toward the priesthood.

Minor seminarians for the Diocese of Torit.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Creative Driving in South Sudan

Dr. Will's camera takes cool pictures (like the one above) while in motion in the vehicle, everything kind of "bends" to the movement.

"We're stuck! We'll never make it around that dump truck."
(Oh yeah? See the video below)

St. Theresa Hospital, Isohe, South Sudan

St. Theresa Catholic Church, Isohe
We arrived in Torit on Monday, October 10, and on Wednesday, October 12, we had the opportunity to travel to Isohe. Isohe is one of the most beautiful places in the diocese (the banner photo for this blog, as well as for the CFR Sudan Mission Blog, are both from Isohe), and I’ve had the blessing of having been able to make several visits there before, most recently for the Bread of Life Eucharistic Youth Retreat we conducted there last year (click here for previous CFR Sudan Blog postings about Isohe).

St. Theresa Catholic Hospital, Isohe

The principal purpose of our visit this time was for Dr. Will Stallings to see St. Theresa Hospital and meet the doctor who works there. On Tuesday morning Sr. Theresa Denis Aywok, Sister of the Sacred Heart and administrator of the hospital, and Dr. Brian B. Madison, the Sudanese doctor who works there, gave us a complete tour of the facility.

Left to Right: Dr. William Stallings, Sr. Theresa Denis Aywok, Dr. Brian B. Madison.
An operating room which has been under construction for several years is now almost ready to be used. There are some final touches and alterations to be completed, and the hospital would like to construct a small separate ward for patients recovering from surgery.

Operating Room.

Maternity Ward.

A big part of the hospital’s work has to do with pregnancy and maternity cases. St. Theresa’s offers prenatal care and deals with many cases of complicated child birth. These cases sometimes have to do with the youth and petite body structure of mothers, as well weakness caused by insufficient malnutrition. Many cases requiring cesarean birth have to be referred to a hospital in Uganda, about five hours away. The hope is that with the completion of the surgical component, some of those cases will be able to be treated locally.

Betty (standing, left), one of the midwives, with a patient.
Checking body weight of children in danger of malnutrition.
The hospital’s care of children doesn’t stop at birth, though. There is ongoing screening of body weight, height and health, especially for children in danger of malnutrition. The little girl below came to St. Theresa’s suffering from bone tuberculosis of the spine and could only crawl. Thanks to the care she received there, she is now able to walk.

Once only able to crawl, now she can walk.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lay Missionary Profile: Dr. William Stallings

This is Dr. William Stallings first mission trip to Africa. In the United States he works as a physician in a hospital in Virginia and is a committed member of the Missioners of Christ lay community. He has previously been on mission twice to Peru twice and three times in Honduras. His spiritual journey has been touched and moved by my experiences in foreign missions. Dr. Will’s first trip to Honduras took place while he was a fourth year medical student; he spent one month experiencing the culture, language, and beauty of the Honduran people. His sister, Virginia, was at that time a long term missionary, which enabled him to spend the time with her and not as part of a larger group. That individualized experience was beneficial in that Will was forced to engage the culture both linguistically and humanly in ways he would not have done if he had not been alone.

Will states that, “mission forced me out of my comfort zone and caused me to stretch. Being without many modern conveniences, particularly television, my soul slowed down and prayer became easier. My ‘flesh’ died a bit and my spirit lived more freely. Upon returning to the United States I was struck by the excesses of our culture and could feel the talons of materialism grabbing back at my soul.” Subsequent mission trips have been short term medical brigades with similar spiritual experiences, although unique in the individual moments of service and love that are the gifts of the medical profession. After his last medical brigade, Will left wanting to do more, perhaps to transition to either a longer experience where disease could be more effectively fought, or to lead medical brigades with students to help share the things that have touched him personally.

Currently Will is hoping to organize a short term medical brigade that would be more fully Eucharistic and evangelical in nature, perhaps fusing what he has seen on medical brigades with what he has seen on evangelization experiences into a single mission experience. He shares: “Mission has helped me to learn to ‘dance’ more freely with the Lord. Through the experience of service we ourselves are drawn more deeply into the life of the Trinity. We are freed from the chains that cause us to fear our dance with the Lord, and by the very action of service we are following the steps of our Lord, and thus dancing with Him.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Arrival in Torit

A small Toposa settlement on the outskirts of Kapoeta.

Maynor, Will and I arrived safely in Torit after a somewhat bumpy flight that took us from Nairobi via Lokichoggio and a stop at the airstrip in Kapoeta (above). We were delighted to be greeted by four young people from the St. Daniel Comboni Missionary Youth. Ydo Jacobs, a Dutch layman who has worked with the Diocese of Torit for many years, picked us up at the airport and took us to the bishop’s residence, where we dined with His Lordship Akio Johnson Mutek and several other guests. Bishop Akio arrived just a few days before us to a very enthusiastic welcome at the airstrip, followed by a stop at the tomb of Fr. Saturnino Ohure, before reaching his house. On Sunday there was a jubilant joint celebration of the bishop’s return home combined with the commemoration of St. Daniel Comboni, the Apostle of Africa. Bishop Akio expressed his sincere gratitude for our return visit and reiterated his strong hope and desire that we would continue to make regular trips to the diocese for evangelization activities.

Returning to Mercy House for the first time in almost a year.

I was extremely happy to discover  that  we  would be  staying at Mercy House, which is still awaiting the religious who are expected to reside there in the near future. I was also very grateful to learn that the chapel continues to be used regularly by different groups from the local parish: youth, evangelizers and the Legion of Mary. We were moved to  see small children stopping to pray the Rosary there almost daily on their way home from school.

Children praying in the Mercy House chapel (above and below).

There was a spontaneous gathering of about 20 youth for an impromptu Holy Hour the day we arrived. I was again deeply moved and encouraged by how much the youth have been formed and how eager they were to pray. We gathered with some of the young men the following afternoon to watch a video about the life of Blessed Pope John Paul II. 

Young men watching scenes from the life of Bl. John Paul II at Mercy House.
The day after we arrived, we joined the local parish for morning Mass and saw how much progress has been made on the new parish church. The walls have been raised, and the diocese is now trying to raise the funds for the roof. When finished it will be able to hold more than 1,000 people.

The new parish church under construction in Torit Town (above);
view of the sanctuary (below).

Last Day in Nairobi - Visiting Children at the Missionaries of Charity

On Sunday, October 9, we spent our last day in Nairobi celebrating Mass in the morning in maximum security at Kamiti Prison, followed by a very blessed and anointed hour of Eucharistic adoration. Before  we left the prisoners  asked us to return to give them a retreat. Later in the day Br. Juan Pablo, MC, Maynor and Dr. Will Stallings visited the toddlers and handicapped children at the Missionaries of Charity home in Huruma, while I spent the afternoon with my CL friends at their monthly assembly.