"Saint Eugene Parish is built on a location that overlooks the Zambezi River, floodplains. It is truly a beautiful and fitting place to worship God." Fr. Barnabas Simatende,OMI.
The Catholic community of Lukona, Zambia is made up of extraordinarily patient people.
In 2001 they laid the foundation for what would become their future house of worship. The first meeting between the Oblates and their new parishioners was held “Zambia style” – under a tree. As funds became available a small portion of the church was built. After ten years the project was finally completed.
On August 28, 2011 the Missionary Oblates and the people of Lukona dedicated their new church to the Oblate founder, St. Eugene De Mazenod. Parishioners and guests from all over Zambia gathered at the church to take part in a joyous Mass and dedication ceremony.
The new leader of the Diocese of Mongu, Bishop Evans Chinyama Chinyemba, O.M.I. was present for the celebration. As he blessed the church he encouraged the community to grow both in number and in faith.
“Bishop Chinyemba thanked all those who contributed in any way to the building of the Lukona church,” said Bro. Ben Phiri, O.M.I. “He also asked the gathering to continue praying for our benefactors that the good Lord may continue blessing them and their families.”
Brother Emmanuel Mulenga, O.M.I., who assisted Bishop Chinyemba during the dedication ceremony, commented that “it was a celebration for the whole village and because of the circular configuration of the church, there was a strong sense of connection among the participants.”
The building of St. Eugene
De Mazenod Church began shortly after the Delegation Superior at the time,
Fr. Ron Carignan, O.M.I. and his council allocated a grant of ten million kwatchas (about $2,000 U.S.) to the project. The goal was to build a church to accommodate 500 worshipers.
Building the church became a labor of love for the people of Lukona. Parishioners produced over 3,000 building blocks. A Zambian construction company built the steel structure. The altar and church furnishings were made by local artisans.
As construction continued on the new church, the people of Lukona received support and encouragement from the Oblates and parishioners at St. Michael’s Parish in Kalabo, the mother church in the region. The Oblates based in Kalabo are responsible for about 55,000 Catholics spread out over a vast area of western Zambia.
For years Lukona had been one of about 60 outstations served by the Oblates from Kalabo. The Oblates could get to Lukona only a few times each year to celebrate Mass and the sacraments. Lukona is a three-hour drive during the dry season along a “road” whose surface alternates between grass, sand and mud.
Among the Oblates who served at St. Michael’s during the building project were
Frs. Jean-Rene Talabo, Joe Phiri, Patrick Chiso and Valentine Kalumba. Father Nebby Mutale Chanda, O.M.I., presently a parish priest at St. Michael’s, has accepted the challenge of shepherding the parish community at St. Eugene. His frequent presence allows the local people to celebrate Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis.
In addition to meeting the spiritual needs of the people of Lukona, the Oblates are also active in humanitarian efforts in the region. They oversee the operation of a farm where maize is grown to help feed the malnourished people in the village. They are also trying to develop a water system for the area. At the present time there is no source of clean water in Lukona. This forces residents to carry water to their village from neighboring towns, a journey that usually takes several hours.
The Oblates and the people of Lukona realize that it could be several years before clean water flows in their village. But they are very patient, and know that good things come to those who keep the faith. Something they are reminded of every time they step inside their new church.