Until 1936, Katibunga was an outstation of Chilonga about 110 km to the North East. It is situated in a very pleasant valley through which runs the Kapamba River. To reach it there is a gradual descent of about 30 km on a very rough and stony road. Since it is 500 meters below the level of the plateau at Mpika, the climate is hot and humid.
The reasons for building a mission at Katibunga, that is so isolated today, were many. First of all, it was hoped that eventually it would be located in a central position on the main road. At that time there was a plan to build a major road to by-pass the dangerous climb up Danger Hill on the escarpment. The missing link in the "Cape to Cairo Railway" was to be built through there, too. As it turned out, neither road nor railway were built on that route. Consequently, the importance of the mission has declined over the years.
Because the Katibunga area was so difficult to reach, it was rarely visited, and the 500 Christians, and about the same number of catechumens, were often neglected. Father Van Sambeek, a member of the White Fathers, wrote, "This foundation is imperative in order to preserve and keep in order this distant area of Chilonga. We would like to build a Central School there, which would serve the children from other schools in the area." He also intended to build a preparatory Junior Seminary.
Another reason for building a mission at Katibunga was that the soil was very good, and this would be a distinct advantage if a Central School were to be built. Besides, there was a vast expanse of land stretching from Mwenzo to the Tanzanian border to the northeast which was completely under the influence of Protestants. Such circumstances made the foundation of a mission in the area all the more urgent. A very practical reason which appealed to the good Dutchman was that, since Katibunga was not in the Congo Basin, it would be exempt from tax.
Choosing the Site
Father van Sambeek had already made several visits to Katibunga with Mr. Lukaki, who lived in the area, as his guide. Once the decision was made to found a mission, he sent for Brother Gottlieb at Charabesa, and set out himself to live at the new mission. He arrived on the site on February 4, 1936. Brother Gottlieb joined him five days later after a five-day trek in pouring rain. They pitched their tent on the left bank of the river Kapamba. Mr. Lukaki, an energetic young man and the father of a future priest (Father Josephat Lukaki), became their cook and general factotum.
After several months they transferred to the other bank of the river that was the dividing line between the Bema areas of Mpika and Chinsali. There was a large expanse of land on the right bank of the river with plenty of room to build the mission station and schools. Since the original site was liable to flooding, the present day mission was built on higher ground. Today some traces of the original brick kiln are still to be seen.
In August Father Geis came from Chilonga to take charge of the mission and Central School. Father van Sambeek moved on to found Mulilansolo. Soon afterwards, two young missionaries, Father Ritter and Brother Rainer, came to learn the language. The parishioners were Bisa in the area of Chief Mukungule. They gave the missionaries a warm welcome, but the pagan customs of the Bisa did not make evangelization easy. Since the mission was on the borders of the Game Reserve, the local people were more interested in poaching and trading in ivory than in religion. From the beginning, the White Fathers made regular contact with their parishioners who had been somewhat neglected. They and the catechist, trained by Father van Sambeek, initiated a course of intensive religious instruction.
Soon the Fathers expanded their activity along the main road near Ishiwangandu in the country of Chief Mukwikile. There were several Protestant schools already in the area, so the coming of Catholic missionaries aroused strong feelings on the part of the teachers and preachers. The missionaries were, however, both energetic and responsive to the challenge. The result was a large increase of both Christians and catechumens. Ten years after the foundation of Katibunga there were 2000 Catholics and about 500 catechumens in the parish. This remained unchanged for many years despite the foundation of Mulanga in 1939.
The principal activity of the Parish in the first years of its existence was St. Aloysius Central School for students up to standard IV (6 years of primary school). The Department of Education was not happy about this, and, after several complaints, the school was forbidden to accept students from other areas. In 1957 the Junior Seminary was transferred to Kantenshya, where students from other areas who had completed standard IV were admitted.
At the request of the Chief and the people, schools were opened at Lukaka, Mukwikile, and Mukungule. They accepted the best pupils who had completed Standard II in local village schools. These schools attracted more students and had better results than the Protestant schools. It was from the Catholic schools that most of the catechumens were recruited.
Since most of the adult males went to work in the mines, Catholic Action among them never really got off the ground. Due to lack of priests, however, the Christians themselves began to conduct Sunday services in the out-stations. This fostered in them a sense of responsibility for their faith. Father Joseph Furrer promoted the development of church councils and choirs that attracted young people.
Miss Christina Furth, the sister of Brother Liborius, opened a dispensary that played an important part in the social work of the parish. She remained in Katibunga for two and a half years, but her work continued through the services of a nurse. Each month an average of 100 mothers attended the clinic for "under fives" run by visiting doctors and nurses from Chilonga.
Father Pehle started the Savings Bank and Credit Union in the parish. These developed quickly and gave rise to "multi-purpose co-operatives." There is a farmers section, a consumers co-op, and a grinding mill. A woodworking factory, managed by Mr. Lukaki, makes furniture which is much in demand locally. It also trains apprentices and is a valuable local resource.
Katibunga has been a source of many priestly vocations. Some excellent priests are graduates of St. Aloysius Pre-Seminary. Fathers Stephen Chileshe, Peter Bwalya, Evarist Mukolwe, Paul Makasa, and Justin Chomba. Later on, Father Josephat Lukaki was ordained by Bishop Adolf Fürstenberg in 1982. The beautiful ceremony and the celebrations that followed will long be remembered in the parish. The Sisters of the Child Jesus have also received girls from Katibunga into their ranks.
Changes of Personnel
Since Katibunga is far from the Boma and the main road, its importance and vitality diminished over the years. Its most productive people continued to migrate elsewhere in search of work. There were many changes of personnel in the parish during the 1939-45 war. After that, there was stability for a time with the appointment of Fathers Cox, Hoch and Proulx. Then, in 1959, Zambian priest Father Kayunge took charge of the parish. These priests remained until 1964, when the White Fathers returned.
Withdrawal of Personnel
Shortage of priests became so acute in 1976 that the bishop and the religious superiors were obliged to withdraw the White Fathers from the parish. Since then, Mukungule area has been looked after by Mpika, and Mukwikile district is served by a priest from Mulanga. The withdrawal of personnel was not only lamented but also criticized by the Bisa parishioners who rightly considered themselves abandoned. In reality, however, there was no other solution, since the available missionaries were absorbed in larger parishes.
We can say, on the other hand, that the withdrawal of the missionaries played an important role for Katibunga in that it fostered the first priestly vocations in the diocese. In spite of the lack of personnel, the parish still carried on its important social, medical, and educational work. The regular visits from Mpika enabled the parish to carry on. One can say, in a sense, that the withdrawal of personnel was a blessing in disguise in that the local people began to shoulder their own responsibilities.
A ray of hope was given by the visit of Benedictine missionary monks from Tanzania. Their presence gave rise to the hope that Katibunga would once again have its own priests. The introduction of the monastic life, with its powerhouse of prayer, would become a source of many blessings for the whole diocese.
The Benedictines -- one priest and four brothers -- arrived in Katibunga Priory on October 1, 1987. The story continues ....