A far-fetched cathedral

A far-fetched cathedral

More than 3,000 people came to celebrate the inauguration of a newly built cathedral for the Diocese of Ibba of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS). Story by Thorkild Jørgensen.

To accomplish the construction of a building of this caliber in the impoverished land of South Sudan is an impressive feat. The people who built the church live in small huts called tukols, and often struggle to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the people of the Diocese of Ibba in Western Equatoria province managed to build this massive building that holds up to 1,500 souls on a Sunday service within three years.

The foundation was laid in March 2014, and the inauguration was celebrated on Sunday 17 December 2017. It began with a vision some years earlier. In 2008 Bishop Wilson Kamani invited church leaders, archdeacons and laypeople from the diocese, to a meeting where he shared his vision. 

'I asked them: What can we do to build our church?' Wilson says as he recollects how people reacted to his question. 'People were excited and said, "We can do it!"'

Inside the cathedral

'You know, the pastors aren’t the owners of the church, the Christians are,' Wilson says. 'You need to get the local people involved in the decision-making for them to take ownership and want to build something like this.'

Involving the local people is very important, as is communicating your vision to them, but accountability is vital. When people contribute to the church you need to be able to show them how you have spent their money, in order to get enough donations to fulfil the vision.

Bricks, glass and a cross

Each of the four archdeaconries in Ibba Diocese committed themselves to make 15,000 bricks each, and the cathedral itself would contribute 30,000 bricks. Local people were mobilized, and a total of 90,000 bricks were produced. Other building materials came from Uganda. Most of them on lorries, but some were too delicate to be transported on rough roads. In June 2017 MAF flew 410kg windowpanes and two buckets of putty on a MAF-Caravan to Ibba.

On a shuttle flight on 16th November, together with passengers from many different organisations, one last thing was brought to the cathedral: a big, wooden cross for the altar. However, it wasn’t installed until a month later.

School children hold the wooden cross at the inauguration

Days of travelling

A date was set for the inauguration, and Bishop Wilson invited his diocese and the broader ECSS community to participate.

It can take people days to attend an event like this, so they are not coming for just one day after having travelled long distances on foot, on bicycles or on motorbikes. If you need to spend the night somewhere you make sure to have a relative or a friend on the route with whom you can stay. If you know no one in the area you are travelling through the local church will help you find accommodation.

I want to express my gratitude towards MAF. Without MAF it would be very difficult for our church to operate across South Sudan.

Bishop Wilson

From the cathedral in Ibba to the borders of the diocese it is 45 miles to the south, 125 miles to the north, 27 miles to the east, and 7 miles to the west. It has been placed to the west of the diocese because of the main road running through Ibba from west to east. Ibba diocese is relatively peaceful, but because of security concerns in the neighbouring counties nobody would ever consider driving the 330km between Ibba and Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This is why ECSS uses MAF very often, and why Bishop Wilson has not used the road between Juba and Ibba since 2013.

'I want to express my gratitude towards MAF,' Bishop Wilson says. 'Without MAF it would be very difficult for our church to operate across South Sudan.'

3,000 and counting

On 14th December a MAF Caravan was chartered to bring the archbishop and primate of ECSS, Daniel Deng, and other members of the clergy from Juba to Ibba. A second flight was chartered to bring people back to Juba on 18th December. MAF South Sudan had received an official invitation to participate, and bookings officer, Kiir Dau, went on these flights and spent the weekend in Ibba.

More than 3,000 people came to celebrate the inauguration of a newly built cathedral

During the days leading up to 17th December people kept streaming into Ibba from all over the diocese and also from neighbouring dioceses to celebrate the opening of the new cathedral. The governor of the area, the primate, the archbishop and the six bishops of the province celebrated the event together with more than 3,000 people.

Faith and pride

To embark on a project like this was an act of faith, and you could tell that people took pride in what they had achieved.  The celebration continued as the procession carried the large wooden cross into the cathedral to the sound of exuberant joyful song!

Choir in their robes at the inauguration ceremony