On December 17, 1910, three White missionaries arrived at Pakuba on the shores of Lake Albert, near Pakwach town in present day Nebbi district. This was after a long journey through Sudan. The area was inhabited by the Jonam, a little-known fish-loving tribe.
Curious, the locals ran to their chief, Rwoth Omach, grandfather of finance state minister Fred Jachan-Omach, who then received the White men; Bishop Xavier Geyer, Fr Albino and Brother Augustus.
Here, they encountered various problems such as unclean water, poor shelter, mosquitoes, malaria, heat, wild animal threats, lack of medicines and food shortage. It was from Pakwach that the missionaries, belonging to the Comboni congregation, moved to Gulu the following year in 1911 and then Arua in 1912. Today, Arua Diocese is celebrating 100 years since the Catholic faith was introduced into the area.
The main celebrations will take place at the Holy Cross Pilgrimage Centre Indriani in Pakele parish, 22km east of Adjumani town, where the first group of missionaries pitched camp in 1912. For long the entire West Nile was under Gulu diocese, until Arua diocese was created on June 23, 1958.
"We are actually celebrating the birth of the Catholic faith in Arua diocese," said Bishop Sabino Odoki of Arua Diocese.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Vatican department for missionary work, will represent the Pope. Cardinal Filoni, officially referred to as Prefect for the Evangelisation of Peoples, arrived in Arua early in the week. On Wednesday, he led prayers at Arua cathedral, during which he commended the diocese for socio-economic development.
"I cannot help but express my appreciation for the selfless service that you render to Christ and the Church through teaching of catechism, charitable outreach to the needy, education of young people, reconciliation among families or divided groups and assistance to the elderly," he said.
Arua Diocese, which has 1.2 million Christians, runs a number of health facilities including Maracha Hospital and 12 health centres spread throughout the districts of Arua, Adjumani, Moyo, Yumbe and Koboko. The diocese founded schools such as St. Charles Lwanga Secondary in Koboko, St. Joseph's College Ombaci and St. Mary's Ediofe, which continue to dominate academic performance in the area. It also operates rehabilitation centres, notably the Moyo Baby's Home and Don Dino orphanage centre at Ediofe in Arua.
Rt. Rev. Lino Sanctus Wanok, the bishop Nebbi Catholic Diocese, says the celebration is not just about the Christian faith, but also the impact of the Church in society.
"Most schools, hospitals, health centers and roads in the region were constructed by the Church," he said.