Some history of Lodwar diocese, Kenya

Lodwar diocese rejoices

fr joseph ekomwaFr Joseph Ekomwa is a priest of Lodwar diocese, studying at the Angelicum University in Rome. With the installation last month of the third bishop of Lodwar, Rt Rev Dominic Kimengich, Fr Ekomwa wrote to the CISA News Agency about the event and gave a very good overview of the development of the Church in Turkana.

I am very happy for the recent progress that has taken place in the Diocese of Lodwar. I do interpret these events as ‘signs of the times’ for Kenya as a country and Turkana region, which the Diocese of Lodwar covers in particular.

I would like to concur with the remarks made during the installation ceremony of Bishop Dominic Kimengich. We tell him welcome, karibu sana (Kiswahili word for welcome) and Kipeyounitoe as we say it in Turkana Language, which means the same as ‘you are most welcome’ as our new Ordinary and shepherd. As we thank the new Bishop, we look back with reminiscence and gratitude in our heart. We cannot help it but call to mind those that made their humble contribution to make the Diocese of Lodwar what it is today.

History informs us that, Turkana Land since the colonial period was looked out of the rest of the world. The British Administration restricted movement into and out of this vast arid and semi-arid part of Kenya’s Northwestern corner. The Catholic Mission made a bold and brave move to venture into this ‘protected’ land in order to introduce to the inhabitants the Good Tidings of God – the Christian Faith.

The Pioneer Missionary Group was the St. Patrick Missionary Society (Known as Kiltegan Fathers) from Ireland. The Journey would be likened to The Way of the Cross. The First Station and stop was at St. Peter’s Parish, Lorugumo towards the end of 1961.

The Missionaries were passing through Moroto in Karamoja, Uganda. It is no wonder that, the Liturgical Books, Catechism and Prayer Books used in earlier days were written in Karamojong Language. Karamojong Language is our (Turkana) mother language from which others grew and spread to the region of South Sudan (Toposa people), in Ethiopia (Nyangatom, known as the Dongiro and the related) and the Turkana Language of the Turkana People. All these languages are of Nilotic strand and origin. These people spread into the linguistically connected ethnic groups that form a network of what Anthropologists call the Family of Ngitunga Group, which means people of common origin and ancestry.

Together with the St. Patrick Missionary Society of Apostolic Life, a Women Missionary Group, the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), accompanied them. James Good, in his Book, “The Mission in Turkana”, wrote that, the very first MMM Flying Medical Doctors were Three, known as ABC (Srs. Andrea, Beatrice and Canicias).

They accompanied the priests in order to provide the healing component of the Gospel to the people of Turkana land. From this initial stage and step into this least known frontier region of Africa (Kenya), to what stands today as ‘a city in the sunny – sand’, Lodwar Diocesan headquarters in Lodwar Town.

Others that joined the first two mentioned were the Comboni Missionaries (formerly known as the Verona Fathers from Verona City in the Northern part of Italy). Among the African founded religious congregations working in the Diocese of Lodwar, are the Apostles of Jesus (AJ’s). The AJ co-founded The Contemplative Evangelizers. Other groups include the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary (ESM). These were cofounded by Sisto Mzzoldi (first Bishop of Moroto, Uganda) and his Confrere Padre John Mariongoni. Both passed on, leaving these and other missionary groups founded for this purpose to announce the new tidings of God to the people of Africa.

A fortunate coincidence is that, our new bishop was born in 1961, a similar date with the birth of the Catholic Mission in the same land. This data says something to us today. The interpretation is that, while the Bishop contemplates of celebrating his 50th birthday, the diocese will be braving and gearing-up towards marking a Golden Jubilee of her presence in Turkanaland. I call it a fortunate coincidence that speaks volumes about the age of the diocese now lead by a bishop as old as herself.

We cannot fail to pay tribute to the retired Bishop Patrick J. Harrington (SMA), whose work has had a remarkable impact on the drastic and dramatic development of the Diocese of Lodwar in the past 11 years. We say to him, ‘well done faithful shepherd and servant’ may you remain for us a treasure of good memory to remember.

We cannot afford to forget the founding father of the Diocese of Lodwar, John Christopher Mahon SPS. History bears witness to his time of ministry in the Diocese of Lodwar, Turkana (1968 – 2000).  His was a Life of witness to the Gospel values. The diocese now is of age (at least physical age) and other aspects of her growth and development can be assessed and evaluated for the purposes of leaping to the future.

In conclusion, we have three Jubilees to announce and celebrate in the diocese: The Golden Jubilee of the diocese, 50th birthday of the bishop and his Silver Jubilee of priestly ministry. Long live our bishop and diocese!

Further input from Fr Ekomwa in relation to the work of Bishop-emeritus Harrington SMA and Bishop Mahon SPS:

On behalf of the Diocesan Clergy of Lodwar, I would like to pay tribute of gratitude to the Society of African Missions (SMA) for accepting to support our Bishop Emeritus, Patrick J. Harrington throughout his ministry in Turkana land. We are happy that the SMA forms part of the success story of Lodwar Diocese. I would like to call it, ‘Chapter II of the Missionary Book’ about the Mission to the Turkana People.
The society’s contribution has been evident in the person and ministry of Mzee Patrick J. Harrington. We can not put it in words, for they cannot sufficiently contain our sentiments of gratitude to such self-less and dedicated Missionary.
The two Missionaries from our Mother Church of Ireland (John C. Mahon SPS (RIP) and Bp Emeritus Patrick J. Harrington SMA, are the pioneer writers of our Christian history. They did it by their dedicated ministry, each in his own proper time.
They form – as I have already indicated above – the prime time of the Christian Mission in Turkanaland among the Nomadic Pastoralist People of Turkana.  Their contribution will always remain with us. We say to our retired father Patrick, “Well done, may you have a quiet and a calm retirement time.”  May Our Lady and Mother Mary, the Mother of All Missionaries, the Queen of Africa and Our Lady of the Turkana Valley accompany you as you retire to quiet life and prayer. We humbly ask him to pray for us so that, our faith may not fail, but grow from strength to strength.