Opening of new church brings spirit of unity and peace to Eastern Equatoria
Crowds gathered in their thousands in Torit to celebrate the spirit of unity and peace at the opening of Our Lady of Holy Rosary Parish’s new church building.
Traditional dancers dressed in colorful clothing and intricate beads cheered as the builder of the church handed over the keys of the new building to the Catholic Diocese of Torit.
Choir members raised their voices in praise as a procession of religious leaders, government officials, and representatives from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan entered the newly inaugurated church building.
Monsignor Thomas Oliha, the Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Torit, blessed the church by sprinkling water from a tree branch on the thousands of people who had gathered for the day’s festivities.
For over a decade, the Catholic Diocese of Torit has been patiently waiting and investing time, labor, and resources to build a new parish building in the capital of Imatong State. Seating 2000 people, the premises were built in service of the people of the Eastern Equatorian region with UNMISS playing an integral role.
“The Mission contributed a lot to the success of the building of the church. We thank them all very much,” he said. “This is also not only about money, but the faith and the deed and the trust. And the unity in the community also here that makes this church come out,” said Bishop Emeritus Taban Paride.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, UNMISS Head of Field Office in Torit, Mary Cummins, reiterated UNMISS’ commitment to work as an impartial partner with local communities to peacefully end the conflict.
“The United Nations is also working on the ground in South Sudan. We are doing our best to respond to the crisis,” she said. “We are working to encourage the government and everyone here to try and stabilize the situation, to protect the citizens of the country, and build a durable peace.”
Religious leaders say the new church building will serve as an oasis of hope in which community members can gather and strive towards a collective vision of peace. The opening ceremony brought religious and government leaders together in prayer, song, and dance to reflect on the needs of the South Sudanese citizens for peace.
The festivities continued over the weekend, with UNMISS’ Torit football team playing the “Our Lady of Holy Rosary” team in a friendly match at Freedom Square. Hundreds of Torit locals and UNMISS staff members gathered to cheer on their players as the teams went head to head in suspenseful match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Following the match, UNMISS Team Captain and Human Rights officer, Cornelius Nagbe reflected on the role sports can play in supporting peace.
“You know sports can bring people together and it’s about not finding a winner, it’s about all being winners. It’s a good tool for bringing peace to South Sudan,” he said.
The match also featured a lively penalty shootout during halftime between government officials, religious leaders, and the UNMISS Head of Field Office Torit. The crowd roared with laughter and anticipation as they saw their leaders, still dressed in suits and professional attire, walk onto the field and try to kick the ball into the net.
Even the Governor of Kapoeta State, Louis Lobong Lojore, tried his luck but only Imatong State Chief Whip, Otim Peter Carlo, and Bishop Anselm Umoren, who came all the way from Nigeria for the weekend’s celebrations, managed to outflank the goalie.
The match ended with an awards ceremony that named UNMISS Rwandan peacekeeper, Olivier Haguminshuti, as man of the match for his relentless defence of the goal.
Father Noel, Bishop at “Our Lady of Holy Rosary Parish”, seized the occasion to promote unity and emphasize UNMISS as a key partner in fostering peaceful coexistence.
“The church has become a symbol and that is why with the collaboration of UNMISS, the wonderful work they are doing with the church, we believe that we can unite everyone in South Sudan so that with stability there will be development,” he said.
Monsignor Thomas Oliha echoed the calls for peace and unity at the center of the celebration and at the heart of the new church building.
“What we need from this world is unity and peace of humanity. So I want to thank everyone, everyone who is present here that this day should really be remembered especially in Torit. So please we encourage very much this encounter,” he said. “All of us should try look for what unites us. We should try to build bridges in the international community, so that we can build peace, especially in our South Sudan.”
While it took over a decade to build the structure, the church now stands as a firm foundation in the community to foster peace. The songs, cheers, and messages of peace that reverberated throughout the weekend will be remembered for generations to come.