About Holy Family Catholic Church Utawala


 “The Church  is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.”   Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel  No. 47.

Holy Family Catholic Church, Utawala is an eight sided building with a gallery.  The Sanctuary is at the eastern end of the church which means that the congregation faces east for mass as recommended.   The shape of the building effects that nobody in the congregation is very far from the Sanctuary and all have a sense of gathering around the Altar.


The Sanctuary.  The Altar, the Ambo and the Celebrant’s Chair.

The Sanctuary is the focal-point of every Catholic Church.  “The Sanctuary is the place where the Altar stands, where the Word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other  ministers exercise their office.   It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation.   It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.”  (General Instruction of the Roman Missal.  GIRM).   This passage from an important Church document explains that the Altar, the Ambo from where the Word of God is proclaimed and the Celebrant’s  Chair are the three main features of a Sanctuary.   Incidentally, the Tabernacle can be situated  in an appropriate  position even outside the Sanctuary. “The Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a Tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer”. (GIRM).

In our Church, the Sanctuary is marked off from the body of the Church by being elevated and by the different colour of the floor.


The Altar.

“The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the Table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the centre of thanksgiving  that is accomplished through the Eucharist.” (GIRM).

The Altar, the Ambo and the Celebrant’s  Chair are fixed to the ground and made of the same material – white granite flecked with grey.    This highlights their unity of purpose at mass.  The same lighter floor colouring around each of these pieces of sanctuary furniture also highlights their unity. “It is appropriate to have a fixed altar since it more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the living stone…….In keeping with the Church’s traditional practice and the altar’s symbolism, the table of a fixed altar is to be of stone.”

Our  Altar is raised four steps above the floor of the church while the Ambo is raised three steps and the Celebrant’s Chair two steps.  All are plainly visible from every part of the Church.  There is strip-lighting on the ground around the Altar to highlight it further.   A  beam of light shines  on the front of the Ambo.   All three positions are lit up by floodlighting from overhead.

A golden coloured curved design engraved on the Altar also draws the attention of the eye to it.

The design on the Ambo is that of a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit to remind us that it is the Holy Spirit who enlightens our minds and hearts when the Word of God is proclaimed from the Ambo.  It is modelled on the Ambo in the rebuilt St. Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, Ireland.

Following a long tradition going back to the early days of martyrdom of the underground Church in Rome relics of Saints will be placed within the Altar at its dedication.

Directly behind the Altar there is a carved screen.  This serves a few functions.   It provides seats for Concelebrants.  Its curved shape also helps to draw the eyes of the congregation towards the altar in front of it like welcoming, outstretched arms.  The design on the screen combines crosses with circles, two powerful  Christian symbols.   Incidentally, this same design features on the Stand for the Paschal Candle, the base of the Holy Water Fonts at every entrance and the Aumbry, which houses  the Holy Oils of Chrism, Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick situated on the wall behind the Baptistry.

On the back wall of the Sanctuary there is an artist’s expression of the very first words of the Bible.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”   Gen 1:1.  The artist Erik Mbaka based his painting on pictures taken from the Hubble Telescope which is orbiting outside the earth’s atmosphere, relayed back to earth.   The Cross of Christ hangs in front of it reminding us that Jesus is the Saviour of the World, initiating a New Creation.


The Tabernacle.

The Tabernacle, the sacred place in which the Holy Eucharist is reserved  for private prayer and adoration is built into the back wall on the right of the sanctuary.   Its  design, superimposed on steel doors,  is deliberately simple, loosely  based on a traditional manyatta.  It reminds us that the King of Kings “had nowhere to lay his head”   Luke 9:58, like the homeless and displaced  of our city and our world today  and, in turn,  it challenges us to “give them something to eat yourselves” Mark 6:37.


The Baptistry.

The space to the left of the Sanctuary is occupied by the Baptistry, the Place of Initiation where the Sacrament of Baptism takes place, the Sacrament of Initiation into Christ and His living Christian Community.

The Baptismal Font rises from a pool of water and incorporates  a fountain cascading over the sides of the font reminding us of the Living Waters of Baptism.  The whole Baptismal Area is finished in a blue mosaic design.

To emphasize St Paul’s powerful teaching on Baptism in Romans 6:3-5, where he reminds us that the one being baptized goes down into the tomb with Christ in order to rise to the new life of Christ, the adult catechumen goes down a step into the pool of water to be baptized and then rises up the same step after the pouring of the water.

The baptismal area begins inside the North Door where we have the  window depicting  St John the Baptist baptizing Jesus at the river Jordan.  It continues with the carvings on the Sacristy Door, the carving of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at the top of the door and the final words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel 28:19,  “Go make disciples” and “Baptize” carved on the door itself.   This beautiful door was a gift of the carver who made the main doors of the Church.

The wall behind the Baptistry is also full of baptismal symbolism.  Jesus  is the Rising Sun giving light to the world.  The rising sun emerges out of the waters and scatters the darkness of the night.  A  beam from the rising sun shines directly into the baptismal font.

Below the painting, there are vines growing – the vine produces the grape and thus the wine for the Eucharist,  signifying the connection  between Baptism and Eucharist in the life of the Christian.

At the back of the baptistry the Paschal Candle is placed and near it is the Aumbry, where the Holy Oils – Chrism, The Oil of Catechumens and The Oil of the Sick –  are reserved.


The Catechumenate Wall.

The wall to the right of the sanctuary is the Catechumenate Wall.  Here, a power point presentation can be made.  Here also banners and artistic writings for the seasons of the year are hung to present  visually the mystery of Christ in the Liturgical Seasons.   Here also is placed a Cross, the gift of Fr Sean’s home parish in Ireland,  as a challenge to our parish in Utawala to be very active in handing  on our faith to succeeding generations.

This Catechumenate Wall remains a strong reminder to us that ongoing adult formation in our faith is crucial to face the challenges of the modern world.


The Reconciliation Room.

The Reconciliation Room where the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession is celebrated is situated just inside the North Door.  Next to it is a crying room for Mothers and Babies.


The Windows.

All the lower windows of the church are representations of the patron saints of the Jumuiyas of the parish, donated  by each Jumuiya as a gift.   They remind us that we are surrounded by the saints and supported by their prayers.  They add wonderful colour and light to the building.


The Doors.

The doors are carved with the mysteries of the life of the Holy Family as depicted in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.  Beginning from the South Door they tell us the story of the Annunciation, the Visitation, The Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple and the Finding in the Temple.


The Pillars.

The high pillars dividing the side walls of the church are painted in African design and colour.  They may help in raising our minds and hearts to God in humble prayer.



The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is situated directly behind the main Church.  It is meant to help us respond to the invitation of Jesus when he said, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls.”   Matt 11:28.   It is a place to come in to  the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus and be with him in personal prayer.  The room is comfortable and conducive to prayer.   The doors are carved with the invitations of Jesus in the Gospels;  “Come and See” John 1:39, and “Watch and Pray”  Mark 14:38.

The two coloured windows represent Mary, Mother of God and the Emmaus scene in Luke 25:13-35,   “They recognised him in the breaking of the bread.”

The curtain enfolding the tabernacle may remind us of the veil of the Temple hiding the Mystery of God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies.  Matt 27:51.

The Cross is the Year of Faith Cross given by the Archdiocese to the Eastern Deanery. During the Year of Faith this Cross visited every Jumuiya in the deanery.   At the end of that year the Cross was presented to us as the youngest parish in the deanery.  We are very happy to have such a symbol of Faith  in our Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

Every Friday we have a full day of adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Monstrance on the Altar.  The Monstrance is a gift from Loreto Convent, Youghal, Ireland.

I believe we have a beautiful Church building but let us not forget that it is we are the church.  Unless the building inspires us to live our faith it will become a sterile monument.  At the end of every  mass we are invited to go out and live our wonderful faith in the world around us.  “Go and proclaim the Gospel of the Lord.” Or   “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Let us never forget: We are the church.


Fr Sean.