The Episcopal Consecration of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Eciru Oliach on 25th May 2019 as 3rd Bishop Ordinary of Soroti Catholic Diocese ushered in a wave of exciting pastoral events in the Diocese. The ordination and installation of the first indigenous Bishop of the Diocese itself had drummed huge loads of excitement among the Communities, both within and outside the Diocese.
The Homecoming ceremony on 22nd May 2019, organized to receive the Bishop Elect from Fika Salama border between Teso and Mbale, became one of the most spectacular vehicle processions event witnessed along this 100km stretch of road. The colourful Homecoming ceremony was organized by Christians from all the Parishes of the Diocese, including Soroti Catholic Laity Association (SCALA) - Christians from Soroti Catholic Diocese who are working and living in Kampala and surrounding towns. The day-long procession stopped and prayed at five pre-selected stations along the road, where Christians had gathered and awaited to be led in a short prayer session and blessing by the Bishop-Elect. The procession concluded late in the evening with an Adoration and Benediction ceremony led by the Bishop Elect at Hilders Grounds, Immaculate Conception Parish, Soroti.
The Episcopal Consecration Ceremony itself attracted close to 20,000 Christians from all the Parishes of the Diocese, and representatives from all the Dioceses of Uganda. Held at the Diocesan ceremonial grounds at Fr. Hilders Primary School, the ceremony huge crowd implied that main road along the grounds had to be
Immediately after his consecration and installation, Bp. Joseph Eciru embarked on a packed pastoral program of Confirmation of thousands of Christians at Parish level. From June to December 2019 alone, the Bishop took pastoral safaris to 18 parishes and confirmed 22,600 Christians.
On 24th August 2019, the Diocese held a massive ordination ceremony, during which 4 priests and 4 deacons were ordained. The priestly ordination ceremony, which took place in St. Benedict’s Parish Amuria, attracted a mammoth crowd of over 6,000 worshippers. At the close of the ordination ceremony, the Bishop launched the program for construction of the planned Diocesan Cathedral, Regina Caeli. He also announced the Steering Committee he had appointed to coordinate the work towards construction of the Cathedral. The 7-member Committee is chaired by the Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Ecogu. On the same day, the Bishop announced the creation of 15 new parishes. All the 15 new parishes were inaugurated before close of 2019.
At the close of the year, the Bishop concluded his programs for year by launching the construction of Regina Caeli Cathedral. The Groundbreaking ceremony was conducted on 30th December 2019 at the Cathedral site in Aminit Ward, Soroti Municipality. Delegations came from all the 41 parishes of the Diocese to attend the Solemn Liturgy for blessing Cathedral ground, and to bring their contributions to support the preparatory works towards construction of the Cathedral.
Meanwhile, the Lay Association Movements in the Diocese have gained tremendous momentum. These include associations for Youth, Women and Men. Their annual conference gatherings attract them in huge numbers from all corners of the Diocese, testifying to the level of their commitment to their faith and to their associations. The Diocesan Women League held their 2019 annual Women Conference in Amuria from 2nd to 7th of September 2019. The Youth held their 2019 annual Youth Conference at St. Paul II Youth Centre in Soroti Municipality from 10th-14th December 2019; and the men held the annual 2020 annual Men’s Conference at St. Augustine Parish Mukongoro from 14th to 17th January 2020.
At the start of 2020, Bishop Joseph Eciru came up with a new pastoral initiative of inauguration of the academic year at diocesan level. On 22nd February 2020, after an effective mobilization by all the Parish Priests, all Catholic-founded schools in the Diocese brought their candidate classes and staff representatives to the Diocesan ceremonial grounds at Fr. Hilders Primary School, Immaculate Conception Parish Soroti. A few private schools that learnt of the event also brought in their students to benefit from the teaching and blessing by the Bishop. The liturgical celebration, marking the inauguration of the Academic Year 2020, was also attended by the National Executive Secretary for the Education Commission of the Uganda Episcopal Conference and the Commissioner for Private Schools in the Ministry of Education Sports. Both of them appreciated the Diocese for this initiative, observing that the ceremony was the first of its kind in the history of Uganda.
In a circular issued in November 2019, the Bishop pronounced St. Joseph’s Parish Ngora as the Diocesan Pilgrimage Centre, and established the 19th of March, the Solemnity of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary, as the Diocesan Pilgrimage Day. Despite the heavy preparations and the big turn up of early pilgrims who had already reached the venue a few days to 19th March 2020, the first diocesan pilgrimage had to be called off due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a pastoral letter to the Christian faithful during the mandatory lock-down as a result of the pandemic, the Bishop assured the Christian Faithful that the pilgrimage ceremony would be rescheduled to another date after the Corona-virus pandemic.
Within the social lock-down arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bishop has written pastoral letters to the clergy, to the catechists, to the youth and to all the Christian Faithful, urging them to stand firm as front-liners in the spiritual battle, that will be won through prayer and trust in the crucified and risen Lord. Emphasizing the message from the Uganda Episcopal Conference, he encouraged all Christians that this is the time to effectively transform our homes into true domestic Churches.