Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Raising the Roof" on St. Peter Claver Church in the village of Lowoi, South Sudan

The Church of St. Peter Claver in Lowoi as seen from a nearby height.

Earlier this month I traveled to Arkansas as part of an effort to raise funds to put a new roof on the church of St. Peter Claver, in the village of Lowoi in the Diocese of Torit, South Sudan.

Family homes in Lowoi.
Lowoi is a community that we have visited on a number of occasions, including for a three-day parish mission in 2010. During the war, the villagers fled the flat ground and sought safety on higher ground in the nearby hills. It was during that period that the abandoned parish church of St. Peter Claver was damaged and pillaged, leaving it completely roofless long enough for a full sized tree to grow in the sanctuary.

St. Peter Claver Church from the outside (also next photo). 

After the war, the villagers slowly began to return to their traditional home sites near the church, and about two years ago a full-time pastor - Fr. Joseph Ochan - was appointed and took up residence. Since then, Mass has been celebrated either in the roofless church or elsewhere outdoors, or in a school classroom.

When we visited Lowoi in October of last year, Fr. Ochan expressed the great hope that the parish church, which has been such a symbol of faith and a refuge of hope for the villagers, might be repaired. After consulting with the diocese and our community, I decided to see what might be possible.

Fr. Joseph Ochan, pastor, at the entrance of the church.

The interior of St. Peter Claver Church.

I contacted Steven Hotho, Director of St. Stephen's Charitable Fund in Hot Springs Arkansas, with whom we had collaborated on previous projects in Honduras and Africa, to see if they might be willing to help. With an early pledge from St. Stephen's and a few other anonymous sources, we were more than halfway to our goal. Steven and his wife Emma Lou served as liaisons with Sacred Heart Parish (pastored by Fr. William Elser)and Bob Honzik of the Knights of Columbus in nearby Hot Springs Village, as well as his home church of St. John the Baptist (pastored by Fr. James West) in Hot Springs. I gave a Lenten day of recollection and preached at the Sunday Masses at Sacred Heart, and did a three-day parish mission at St. John's. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the people in these communities we reached the targeted total for the project.

The tree which overshadows the sanctuary.

Although we are still awaiting a final determination on the cost and contractor for the project, we believe we have the funds to "Raise the Roof" (credit goes to Fr. James West for the name). But, as you can see, there are still other basic repairs that need to be done, principally the door, the windows and the floor. If you would like to support this effort, please make an online donation by clicking on the PayPal button above right, or send a check to FMO (the address can also be found above on the right side panel), and indicate that it's intended for repairs on the church in Lowoi.

Mass in the roofless church.

St. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit who dedicated his life to serving men and women who brought from Africa to South America as slaves. What a beautiful gesture to send an gift from this side of the Atlantic to a church that bears his name on the continent from which those whom he served were originally enslaved - a great opportunity for Lenten almsgiving!

Outdoor Mass during the three-day parish mission in 2010.

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