Sinlum is a small town situated 6,000ft above sea level and 30 miles by road from Banmaw. It used to be one of the most beautiful hill townships during the British rule of the country.
The French Missionaries (MEP) arrived in Sinlum in 1923 and established the parish in 1927. Fr. Thomas Rillstone, a New Zealander became the first Columban parish priest of Sinlum in 1949. He built a very beautiful church (92’ long, 40’ wide and 26’ high) and dedicated it as Holy Rosary Church on the 7th October in 1953. The Holy Rosary Church is a very beautiful church and in this very church I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 1964 as a young boarding school student from Columban Bishop John Howe. Fr. Thomas Rillstone was transferred to Myitkyina to become the Rector of St. Columban’s Minor seminary in 1969 since then the parish had no resident parish priest up the present time.
Around 1970 Sinlum became an abandoned town due to the civil war and fighting between Myanmar Military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The church is now in a dilapidated state due to lack of maintenance during the civil war and extreme weather such as heavy monsoon rain and strong wind. To celebrate the centenary of the arrival of the first missionaries to Sinlum in 2023, the church is now being renovated.
View of church being renovated - Photo: Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam
Sinlum is a small parish consisting of 58 Catholic families with 357 members. With great gratitude and joy the diocese will celebrate the centenary jubilee of the arrival of the mission in Sinlum next year. As preparation we are renovating the church. The people of the parish are very enthusiastic to renovate the church and to restore it to its former beauty in preparation for the 100 year jubilee celebration. The church compound is also in need of fencing and a new Iron gate to keep the property safe.
The situation in our country is very difficult now but from their meagre resources the parishoners have donated money and time to this work. After the Jubilee Celebration the Diocese is planning to send a resident parish priest to live there and minister to the people. The renovation of the church in these dark times is a great sign of hope to the people. At the Jubilee we will remember in gratitude the MEP missionaries who started the parish and especially Columban Fr. Thomas Rillstone who built the original church and who gave so much time and energy to developing the parish.
Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam, Bishop of Banmaw Diocese
Note: Fr. Thomas Rillstone was from Invercargill New Zealand. He was ordained a Columban in 1939 and assigned to what was then know nas Burma (Myanmar) He worked in Myitkyina Diocese until the Columbans had to leave in 1978.