Provincial of Juba: “The charism of the Comboni Missionaries is to be in the front line and serve those most vulnerable even in situations of danger.”
“The most important thing now is the complete healing of Father Christian, both physically and spiritually. He is very serene, he is very peaceful,” explained Father Louis Okot, provincial of the Comboni in South Sudan, to the international charity Aid to the Church in Need. One day after the attack on Christian Carlassare (on April 25th), a Comboni missionary of Italian origin, who had been in the African country since 2008 and had recently been elected bishop of the diocese of Rumbek in South Sudan, Father Okot added: “It is not yet known what the motive was, but he has already publicly forgiven those who shot him.”
The attack was a shock for father Okot and the entire community: “We did not expect in any way that Bishop Carlassare would suffer something like this. The reception of him in the diocese a few days before was extremely good, full of hope. On Saturday we spoke on the phone because we were coordinating preparations for the episcopal ordination, which had been scheduled for Pentecost. How we were going to organize the ceremony, the sound system, the transfer of guests…”
The provincial of the Comboni Missionaries speaks of “an isolated incident.” “I don’t think it has anything to do with intercommunity violence between traditionally divided peoples. Often grievances occur between communities, and revenge is sought. The bishop-elect does not belong to any of these groups. He is a man of God.” But Okot remembers that “the police are investigating and looking for more information. It will be extremely important to know the cause of the assailants.”
The signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018 restored some stability to the country and achieved a notable decrease in political violence between the two confronted leaders and between their respective Dinka and Nuer tribes. However, South Sudan continues to face serious problems of insecurity, “several bishops in the country have received threats, but not Bishop Carlassare,” confirms the South Sudanese priest.
Lack of Political Commitment for National Unity
Speaking of the general situation in the country, Father Louis Okot describes the February 2020 pact for the formation of a government of national unity “as a positive step, as politics now follow a diplomatic path.” Although this means that “not everyone is happy with the formation of the new unity government. There are people who struggle with some appointments.”
But despite the progress, “there seems to be very little interest in bringing the country to true unity. Efforts are slow and weak, there is no real commitment. Nobody wants to lose their privileges. That is why we have so many problems between antagonistic communities, especially due to the lack of resources and access to pastures, these conflicts reappear over and over again. A few weeks ago, 23 people were killed in Lagos State. That is the area that suffers the most from this conflict now.”
Regarding the future of Fr. Christian, who was transferred on Monday April 26, to Nairobi (Kenya), and regarding the question of his return to Rumbek, the provincial of the Comboni Missionaries insists that “the most important thing now is that the doctors restore his full health.” But he adds: “Father Christian loves this country and the diocese that has been entrusted to him. We have worked very closely for many years and I know that he is a missionary who lives deeply the charism of the Comboni Missionaries, that is none other than being on the front line, in the line of fire as they say, that is part of our dedication.”
“None of us can say that something like this could not happen to him. The situation of insecurity is general. Our policy is not to run away or back down from danger. Many of the Comboni men and women religious live in situations of war, violence and uncertainty in different countries of the world. Willing to give their lives for those most in need, to serve those most in need even in dangerous situations, they do it for the love of God.”
ACN has been supporting the Diocese of Rumbek for the past 25 years. The charity supported more than 100 projects, including the pastoral work of the Church, Mass Offerings for the clergy, transportation, and religious literature. ACN has helped to create new infrastructure, such as chapels and convents. Likewise, to alleviate times of famine that repeatedly affect the diocese, the pastoral charity has also provided emergency aid.