The Martyrs’ Day: Father Saturnino Lohure Hilangi

Posted: July 30, 2012 by PaanLuel Wël in History, People
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Saturnino Ohure: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saturnino Ohure Hilangi, or Saturnino Lohure, (c. 1921 – 22 January 1967) was a Roman Catholic priest and a politician who played an important role in the early movement for secession of South Sudan.

Saturnino Ohure was of Lotuho origin. He was born around 1921 and baptized at Torit, now in Eastern Equatoria state, in 1931. He studied at the Okaru and Gulu seminaries, and on 21 December 1946 was ordained a priest at Gulu.[1] He and a companion were the first Lotukos to be ordained to the priesthood.[2]

In 1957 Father Saturnino and Ezboni Mondiri Gwanza, founded the Southern Sudan Federal Party (SSFP), which beat the Liberals and won forty seats in the 1958 parliamentary elections, the first after independence in 1956.[3] Saturnino ran successfully for the Torit constituency, and became a leader of the southerners in the Constituent Assembly.[1] When the SSFP spoke up in parliament for the north to consider Sudanese federation, as promised, the government arrested Mondiri and the SSFP broke up. In its place, Father Saturnino formed the Southern Block, with 25 members.[3]

The military government dissolved the assembly in November 1958. In 1961, Saturnino fled to Uganda to avoid arrest.[1] Saturnino Ohure and Joseph Oduho moved from Uganda to KinshasaZaire, where they were joined by William Deng and founded the Sudan African Closed Districts National Union (SACDNU) in 1962.[4] Saturnino was killed by a Ugandan soldier near Kitgum on 22 January 1967.[1] In January 2009 his body was exhumed from its grave in Kitgum and transported to Torit for reburial.

Fr. Saturnino Ohure

Fr. Saturnino Ohure (or Lohure – the spelling seems to vary) is a Lotuko tribal, local Torit, Catholic Church and South Sudanese national hero. His body was exhumed from its original place of burial near where he died in Kitgum, Uganda, and transported to Torit, his place of baptism, last Friday, January 30.Fr. Saturnino, along with a companion, was the first from the Lotuko tribe to be ordained to the priesthood. He is said to have been extremely intelligent and articulate, and to have glided through his studies easily. As the dissatisfaction with and resistance to unjust treatment from the North grew stronger in the South, he was called upon to put his considerable talents at the service of his people by offering political and intellectual leadership to the resistance movement. Recognizing the unique circumstances of the situation, the Holy See gave Fr. Saturnino permission to take on this role. He continued as a priest, however, and is reported by a Comboni missionary who knew him to have celebrated Mass devoutly every day. When he was warned that his life was threatened, he fled to Uganda in 1967, where he was killed and buried.

The following brief biography of Fr. Saturnino is taken from the online Dictionary of Afrcian Christian Biography:

Saturnino Ohure
c. 1938 to 1967
The first Lotuho priest, Saturnino Ohure was born of Xillange and Ixonom about 1921 and was baptized at Torit in 1931. Soon he asked to enter Okaru Seminary, whence he passed to Gulu in 1938. On December 21, 1946 he was ordained a priest with Fr. Avellino Wani at Gulu. Some years later he was given responsibilities with the same Father at Lirya mission until 1955, when the existing Sudanese priests were transferred to the new vicariate of Rumbek under Bishop Irenaeus Dud. At the first general elections he stood for Torit and was elected. He soon became a leader of Southern MPs in the Constituent Assembly. When the Assembly was dissolved by the military government in November 1958, Fr. Saturnino retired to Yei and Porkele. In 1961, informed of his imminent arrest he fled to Uganda together with other ex-parlamentarians where he helped and counselled Sudanese refugees. In one of his travels in this connection he was killed by a Ugandan soldier near Kitgum on January 22, 1967. He was a distinguished priest, and an unselfish, prudent, and courageous leader.

V. Dellagiacoma
This article, received in 2005, is reprinted with permission from Sudanese Catholic Clergy, © copyright 1997 by Fr. V. Dellagiacoma (Provincial Comboni House, Khartoum, Sudan).

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which currently governs South Sudan, initiated the effort to return Fr. Saturnino’sbody to its native soil. Working with the Church, with whom they share this hero, plans were finally completed. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the large square in front of the secretariat for the government of Eastern Equatoria State, had already been named in honor of Fr. Saturnino. Since then a monument has been constructed to house his remains. The ceremony was originally scheduled for January 22, but had to be postponed to allow for additional time to make arrangements for the transfer and reception of the body.

The celebration ignited and energized the population of Torit more than anything I have seen since my arrival. There was a welling up and gushing forth of the purest pride and most honorable enthusiasm a group can feel toward one of their own who has personified their highest aspirations and noblest ideals.The life and witness of Fr. Saturnino, who was my age when he died, is also very inspiring to me personally. He offers an example of untarnished and selfless integrity as a man, a priest and as a political leader, and so can without hesitation be held up as a hero and role model for the people, priests and politicians of Southern Sudan – especially at this crucial moment in its history.

The day began by welcoming the body and escort of Fr. Saturnino at the Torit airstrip. He was accompanied by Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, the diocese in which Fr. Saturnino was buried, and the pastor of the parish in Kitgum, where he died. Fr. Joseph Aruma, a young Lotuko priest of the diocese of Torit, also accompanied the body. A large number of clergy, religious and laity from the local church were present, as was a large delegation from the local and regional governments and many others who turned out to witness the event.

The casket with Fr. Saturnino’s remains was loaded from the plane onto a pickup truck which processed through the streets of Torit at the head of a long motorcade and hundreds of people on foot. The procession finally arrived at the site of the ruins of the local parish church.

Those present overflowed the roofed shelter of the parish and spilled out onto the surrounding property. Bishop Akio Johnson Mutek was the principal celebrant and preacher at the memorial Mass which followed, accompanied by songs in Lotuko and tribal dancers in traditional dress. To say that the celebration was “colorful” falls far short of the mark; “phosphorescent” or “electric” does a little better; but “bursting at the seams with life” is probably about as close as I can get to accurately describing the mood.

At the end of Mass Archbishop Odama spoke in a way that deeply touched and moved those who were present. He knelt before the congregation and asked forgiveness for the fact that Fr. Saturnino had been killed on Ugandan soil at the hands of Ugandan soldiers. He said that the boundaries which had been drawn by the imperialist powers that colonized Africa created artificial divisions between those who were members of the same family. He said it was like having a family home cut in half, with the kitchen on one side of the border and the bedrooms on another. He underscored the spiritual and cultural unity that exists between the people of both dioceses. Afterward, Bishop Akio embraced and thanked Archbishop Odama for all the kindness he has shown to the Diocese of Torit over the years, especially during the war. Their friendship and affection for one another was evident and sincere, and a great witness to humility and love among leaders of the Church.

After Mass the body of Fr. Saturnino was again carried in procession to the monument which had been prepared to receive him. There the Rite of Christian Burial was celebrated as a densely packed crowd joined in prayer. The ceremony was concluded poignantly by the placing of flowers on the tomb by Fr. Saturnino’s surviving younger brother.

As a postscript, yesterday when I walked into town to do my Holy Hour in the bishop’s chapel, I was surprised to find the casket of Fr. Saturnino. His body is being kept there until work on the monument is completed. It offered me an additional opportunity to reflect on the life of this extraordinary Sudanese priest in the presence of the Lord whom he loved and served.

  1. The life of Fr. Saturnino as a Catholic Priest reminds me of my blood brother, Fr. Dominic Wani Terso. While in St. Paul’s Major Seminary, he was always impatient as he waited to be ordained as soon as possible in order to join the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). That was way back in 1994, Khartoum.

    He was finally ordained Priest in Juba by His Grace Paolino Lukudu Loro on July 20,1997 at St. Theresa Cathedral, for Yei Diocese. His motto was too short, taken from the Gospel of St. John Chapter 21, verse 16 (Jn. 21:16) saying, “Take care of my sheep.” That is all. His prayer was equally the shortest and it says, “Lord, your grace is all we need. O Lord Bless us all.”

    He worked in Juba for one year and then went to Khartoum in order to join his Bishop, His Lordship Erkolano Lodu Tombe, in Arua.

    However, secretly, the journey to his Diocese was at the same time a journey to fulfill another mission, the liberation of the marginalized people of the Sudan. His heart was aching as he saw displaced South Sudanese, among whom he worked as a seminarian, suffering immensely under the yoke of the National Congress.

    Indeed, he finally contributed a lot during the liberation struggle as a priest. In Juba, he worked for the SPLM Secretariat till he died in a fatal car accident along the Juba-Yei Road.

    He used to tell me, “writers like you do not want to write about such issues (referring to himself) because I am a priest. But you have forgotten that Catholic Priest became a freedom fighter to liberate his people. I mean Fr. Saturnino Ohure. When the people I am supposed to serve as a priest are being enslaved, how could I preach to them the love of God? That was why I joined the liberation struggle. It makes sense to me.”

    When I got this piece about the life of Fr. Saturnino, our heroe and martyr, I immediately recalled the life of Fr. Dominic Wani Terso.

    I am now fired with zeal to research the lives of these two heroic priests and possibly publish. God help me.

    May God reward all of them with everlasting life.


  2. Lodu Sule says:

    South Sudan became an independent country after long time of stragglers and more challenges. That means we want to look up not to own goals’ so that we can deliver services and develop South Sudan.


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