Learning to speak of God in South Sudan

Learning to speak of God in South Sudan

Jean Dieudonné Nare Mohamadi
Sud-Soudan

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, got her independence from the Republic of Sudan on 09-07-2011. Salva Kiir MAYARDIT of the SPLA (in power) is the country’s first and current president. Riek Machar, leader of the SPLA (in opposition) is one of the country’s five vice presidents. Power-sharing is the simple reason for such a number of vice presidents.

As is the case of many African countries, South Sudan is a rich-natural resource country criss-crossed everywhere by Africa’s longest river, the Nile. It is home to many ethnic/tribal groups. Sixty-four are known of which the Dinka, Nuer and the Shilluk are the majority. Peaceful coexistence for the time being is a rare reality among the ethnic groups. Tribal/ethnic conflicts are numerous and are part of the major causes of the country’s devastating wars.

Shortly after independence, wrangling for political power between President Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnic group and his Nuer ark opponent, Riek Machar has often triggered political, ethnic, economic and other major crises in the country. In 2013, just two years after independence, a political tension between the two leaders began to simmer. In mid-December same year, what then was thought to be only a political power struggle between the two leaders exploded into a full-blown disastrous ethnic/tribal war between the Dinkas and the Nuers. 2014 was destined to be a year of desolation as the war left its horrendous consequences not only between the two concerned major ethnic groups but across every fabric of life of the South Sudanese; a gruesome loss of human lives, a mass displacement of people, a serious famine, lamentable human right abuses by way of exploitation of women and children, an utter distraction of human property and natural resources, dispossession and expulsion of other ethnic groups from their rightful lands etc.

Towns and villages are reduced to desolate wastes. Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile State, second largest city in South Sudan and siege of the Malakal Catholic Diocese is the most devastated town. In the words of the Bishop of Malakal, his Lordship Stephen Nyodho, ‘Malakal is in ruin’! Renk, Wedakona and other towns and villages within the jurisdiction of the same Diocese are partly deserted up to now. It is in this ruined peripheral diocese that God has implanted us as Missionaries of Africa to be signs of hope and reconciliation through the proclamation of the Good News of his Son, Jesus Christ.

We are given a parish in Bor, capital of the Jonglei state and cradle of the SPLA of John Garang. Though not hard-hit by the recent war, Bor remains a fragile town in the midst of the oscillating tribal and political tensions that are hitherto thought to be latent. Bor is a flood-prone town and has recently been heavily flooded. In the rainy season Bor gets marshy and muddy. This reality not only wields a heavy effect on commercial and pastoral activities but becomes a real health hazard because many get broken bones with the mud. Though near Juba, the country’s capital, the only highly insecure two-hour drive road between the two towns is yet under construction. The best option for the time being is to board a thirty-minute flight by plane. Bor is an important administrative town. It has learning institutes including the John Garang University.

The Diocese of Malakal is the largest and most inaccessible in the country. It covers three administrative states. Yet there are not more than 18 priests (diocesan and missionaries combined) working in the diocese. So far only three female missionary congregations work in the diocese. In Bor, we minister to a cross-cultural, ethnic and migrant minority catholic community under the patronage of St Paul. History and living eye witnesses recount that St Paul’s Parish, Bor, was supposed to be opened by the Missionaries of Africa in 1982. Our honourable confrere, Bartholomew Burgos had arrived there and even procured some materials ready to kick-start the project. Unfortunately, the 1983 Sudan civil war broke out and aborted the project. In 1998, a full time catechist, Abraham Chol Nyok initially serving at the St Daniel Comboni Parish in Dongola arrived in Bor and began to animate the small catholic community. At his arrival, he found that the Episcopalian church was already well settled. Due to lack of structures of their own, the small catholic community worshipped in the church structure of the Episcopalian’s Church from 1998-1999. In 2000, the catholic community built its own Church and presbytery using simple local materials. These two structures are already more than 20 years and have given in to the test of time. The presbytery is falling away just whilst the Church only hangs now on some few hard woods. The fence of the compound is falling down.

The only strong structure is an unfurnished parish hall. There is one parish vehicle meant for pastoral activities for the seven vast outstations of which some are  inaccessible due poor roads and high insecurity. These outstations include Pajud, Duk, Panygor, Pibor, Pachalla, Boma and another in Bor. To go to Pibor or Boma near the Ethiopian border, one has to come down to Juba and board a flight. On our military-escorted journey with the Bishop of Malakal by road from Bor to Juba, were astonished to see armed youth along most parts of the road. These are clear signs of fragile peace in the country.

The multiplicity of ethnic groups means that one will have to learn several languages as possible for the sake of the mission. However, for the time being, priority is given to Arabic, one of the two liturgical languages of the diocese of Malakal. Since our arrival in the country, we have focused on the learning of this important but difficult language in Renk north of the country near the border to the Republic of Sudan. As ‘pioneers’, the experience is very exciting yet full of dire challenges requiring our full energy, constant discernment, courage, determination and above all a solid faith and hope in the Holy Trinity. “To whom much is given, much is expected” (Lk12:48). As a Society, we have received immeasurably from the Master of the Mission. Come! Let us share mutually with our amiable suffering brothers and sisters of South Sudan. Indeed, the harvest is huge but the labourers are few!

A year of celebration for Livinhac’s death anniversary

A year of celebration for Livinhac's death anniversary

The Catholic Church in Uganda regards Bishop Livinhac as her Founding Father. The centenary anniversary of his death will occur next year on the 11th November. To honour her founder, the Ugandan Church launched a one year Jubilee at Mapeera-Nabulagala Parish. Our Superior General, Father Stan Lubungo took part in the celebration. Here is the booklet of the liturgical celebration. 

Call from South Sudan

Call from South Sudan

Add Your Heading Text HereThree young confreres in South Sudan to start a Missionaries of Africa community

Cletus Atindaana, Innocent Iranzi and Jean Dieudonné Mohamadi Nare landed in Juba on Tuesday, October 19, to begin a Missionary of Africa community in the Diocese of Malakal, South Sudan. They were thus formalizing their response to the call launched especially to the young confreres by the General Council on November 23, 2020 for the mission in the youngest country of Africa. In Juba they were welcomed by our confrere Jim Green, the only missionary of Africa in the country so far and who is serving ‘Solidarity with South Sudan.’

The idea of a return to South Sudan came about in the General Council during the 150-year jubilee commemorations. From the very beginning of the reflection on the jubilee, the General Council sought to commemorate the event also with gestures worthy of our founder by committing ourselves to our missionary vocation. When it was decided to celebrate the closing of the jubilee in Uganda, we, together with our Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, decided to go on a visit of solidarity to the Church that our elders in the mission had established in this country which today is facing the influx of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees. From the visit was born our commitment to give a strong hand to the Diocese of Arua in its apostolate with the refugees. Three confreres have been appointed. One is already there with two sisters. The other two confreres have been there and will join the third one soon.

The call from South Sudan rang loudest when Father Stephen Nyodho Ador, then newly appointed bishop of the Diocese of Malakal, stopped by at the Generalate one day in July 2019 to ask for additional personnel for his diocese. Having recalled how our confreres had gone to his diocese in the 1980s but unfortunately without settling there, he reiterated the invitation to the Society for a missionary presence among populations hard hit by the conflict that erupted in South Sudan in 2013 and which was still a source of great suffering until the latest peace agreement signed in 2019 which saw the advent of a government of national unity.

In March of this year, Martin Grenier, Assistant General, Aloysius Ssekamatte, Provincial of EAP, and I left to bring a message of solidarity to the Church of the Diocese of Malakal on behalf of the General Council. On our return to Rome we shared what we had seen and in council we decided to launch an appeal to the young confreres. Officially erected in 1974, the Diocese of Malakal covers the Upper Nile region, including Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity States. It is a vast territory of 238,000 km2 with more than 5 million inhabitants of which about one million are Catholics.

Cletus, Innocent and Jean Dieudonné will begin learning Arabic at Christ the King Parish in Renk. They will then go to Jonglei State to St. Paul Parish in Bor. We entrust them to the prayers of all so that the mission in South Sudan, which had been intended many decades ago will be successful this time and that other confreres will soon follow them.

Stanley Lubungo, M.Afr

Jean Dieudonné Mohamadi (Burkina Faso), Cletus Atindaana (Ghana), Innocent Iranzi (R.D. Congo)
The photo shows, from left to right, Bro. Christian Carlassare, Comboni missionary, then vicar general of the Diocese of Malakal and appointed bishop of the Diocese of Rumbek, Martin Grenier, Aloysius Ssekamatte (provincial of East Africa), Stanley Lubungo, Bishop Stephen Ador of Malakal and Sister Elena Balati, a Comboni sister, during a visit to the diocesan curia.

Fr Rosner was ‘baptised’ Abooki

Fr Rosner was ‘baptised’ Abooki

By Matthias Mazinga

In its “Celebrating Life” section of Sunday, October 25, 2020, the first Ugandan daily newspaper “New Vision” published, under the pen of its journalist Matthias Mazinga, a tribute in honor of our confrere Father Gotthard Rosner, who passed away on September 2. Thanks to Otto Katto for sending us a copy.

Rev. Fr. Gotthard Rosner

‘Abooki’

From: May 5, 1941
To: September 2, 2020

The Very Rev. Fr. Gotthard Rosner Abooki, in Uganda in the 1970’s, was one of the confreres of the Catholic Missionary Society of White Fathers (alias Missionaries of Africa), who served the congregation and the Church in Africa with total love and dedication.

Subsequent to his priestly ordination in 1968, Rosner was posted to Mugalike Catholic parish in Hoima, where he worked as the assistant parish priest and later parish priest from 1969 to 1973. He later taught future priests at Alokulum National Major Seminary in Gulu (1977-79). Rosner subsequently served the congregation and the Church elsewhere in Africa, Europe and the US.

The time that Rosner spent in Uganda was evidently the most memorable of his life. He kept in touch with the local Christians at Mugalike and Gulu, even after being transferred from Uganda. Rosner is generally remembered as a  pious missionary, who preached the gospel with admirable devotion. He reached out to the people wherever they were and preached to them the gospel of salvation. Rosner enabled people to know and experience the goodness of God by his words and examples.

Owing to his virtuous life and admirable sacerdotal qualities, the Christians of Mugalike gave Rosner (whose name they pronounced as Gotihati) traditional names such as Atalyeeba (the one that can never be forgotten), and Abooki, a popular pet name (empaako) of the Banyoro. The locals also named their children after Gotthard in appreciation of his sacerdotal ministry.

Josephine Kasaija Bigabwa, a parishioner of Mugalike (who is also the reigning vice-president of Hoima Diocese External Residents Association), is one of the Christians who remember Rosner with great admiration. “He was a down-to-earth priest, who mixed freely with the locals and also lived their culture. He learnt and spoke Runyoro even better than some Banyoro. He always spiced his homilies with interesting proverbs. His mesmeric homilies attracted people to the Church. His generosity was also enormous. He helped hundreds of needy children and vulnerable women. He supported children’s charitable homes. His commitment to children was so solid that children never wanted to go away from him after mass. The children also wanted to go with him whenever he would be moved to another mission station.”

Peter Bernard Kidega, a parishioner of Layibi Catholic Parish (Gulu), also admired Gotthard, referring to him as a “wonderful priest of sweet memories. He was a selfless and diplomatic priest. He served the Lord with all his heart. He was a real Missionary of Africa, who loved Ugandans and all Africans.”

One Christian, who lived at Lacor in the 1970’s, also spoke sweetly about Rosner. “Fr. Rosner paid my son’s school fees from Primary One to Senior Six. When our home was looted during the 1979 war, he brought us cups, plates and saucepans from Nairobi and helped us to rebuild our life.”

Bishop Vincent Kirabo of Hoima Diocese called Gotthard a dedicated servant of God. “I got an opportunity to interact with him when he was still here. He had that unique ability to maintain interest and keep in touch with the places and the people he met.”

Surprisingly, he gave enormous support towards the construction of Mugalike Health Centre III, long after he left the parish. He wrote letters to Christians, requesting to be given updates on the parish, Christians and church projects.

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue around Kampala (EAP Flashes nr 28)

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue around Kampala

Kampala is the centre of the key aspects of life of Uganda as a nation: political, economic, education, health, not to forget religion. Its population is the most religiously diversified compared to any other part of Uganda. Headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Church of Uganda, the Orthodox Church and Islam are all here. Most of the Pentecostal Churches have their main Churches here. The two national ecumenical and interreligious councils — Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and Interreligious Council of Uganda (IRCU) have their headquarters here.

The population of Kampala is, therefore, naturally multi-faith and is destined to remain so in the future. Interreligious and ecumenical interactions and living are part and parcel of the life of the people in most of its parts, residential and non-residential alike. One can say that in Kampala, what unites people of different faiths is stronger than what would divide and oppose them to each other.

All political parties in this country have their headquarters located here in Kampala and seek to brand themselves with an inclusive religious mark both in their leadership and membership. In the same vein, Kampala being the seat of Buganda Kingdom, the ecumenicalinterreligious spirit is more pronounced in its population than elsewhere. The Kabaka is king for all irrespective of their religious affiliations and most of the activities initiated and promoted by the Kingdom are inclusive.

Inter-faith marriages are one of the pastoral challenges which | believe is more acute in Kampala than in any other part of the country. A number of couples, married in the church or not, live in this situation and there is a great need of an adapted ecumenical-interreligious catechesis and pastoral guidelines on this particular issue.

In Kampala, ecumenical and interreligious solidarity is most practiced in face of adversities and sufferings: poverty in the growing number of slums, crimes and injustices not to forget death which occurs more often in the city than in villages. One of those adversities occurred recently when one of the Protestant Churches in Kampala was broken down by people claiming to own the land on which it was built. The solidarity which was shown on that occasion from all people irrespective of their faiths was a loud prophetic voice which reminded us of the importance and key role of religion in our society.

St. Peter's Church Ndeeba

On the official side of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the interventions of the two national ecumenical and interreligious councils mentioned above are most effective in Kampala than elsewhere in the country. Their interventions, often on issues of justice and peace, for example, concerning violation of human rights, governance and democracy, etc., become the talk of the day around the city.

Finally, it has to be observed that although “what unites people of different faiths in Kampala is stronger than what would divide and oppose them to each other”, there is also fear — founded or unfounded — in some of the religious leaders and lay faithful of different faith-communities towards each other. It is also sad to note that there has been some relaxation in the recent past in some of the common ecumenical activities, for example, the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity. Could COVID-19 pandemic be a God-sent reminder of the necessity of strengthening our ecumenical and interreligious peaceful co-existence and collaboration? In fact, residents of Kampala have been more affected by the pandemic than those of other parts of the country.

Fr. Richard Nnyombi, M.Afr.

It concerns you too (EAP Flashes)

IT CONCERNS YOU TOO!

EAP Flashes nr 28 - October 2020

The small and invisible corona virus has made us aware that what goes on in the world concerns all of us. It has changed our lives and our world beyond what the superpowers could ever do. These past years we know more about China because of the Chinese products on the market and companies working in Africa. Nevertheless, I am one of those who will confess that what goes on in China is not my business. I have learnt the hard way that what goes on around the world concerns me too.

For several years our Society has given priority to Justice, Peace, Integrity of Creation, Encounter and Dialogue (JPIC-ED) and it is presented as such in our official communications. We have appointed confreres to lead us in this area and trained several others to specialize in working for JPIC-ED. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to leave JPIC-ED to the experts. We appreciate its importance, talk about it to our people from time to time, but sometimes our attitudes show that it is not our business. Pope Francis notes: “The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new solidarity…. All ofus can cooperate as instruments of God for the involvements and talents (Laudato Si, #14). What the Pope says about the ecology is true for the other crises affecting our world – immigration of peoples, unemployment, poverty, racial discrimination, etc. The last Chapter 2016 challenges us to take JPIC-ED as part of our being as Missionaries of Africa. And Pope Francis at the occasion of the celebration of the 150″ jubilee of our foundation exhorted us saying, “May the Holy Spirit make you build bridges between people. Where the Lord has sent you, contribute to the growth of a culture of encounter; continue to be the servants of a dialogue that, while respecting differences, knows how to be enriched by the difference of other… Through the style and simplicity of your lifestyle, you also demonstrate the need to take care of our common home, the land. Finally, in the wake of Cardinal Lavigerie, be sowers of hope, fighting against all current forms of slavery. Always seek to be close to the small and the poor, to those who expect, at the periphery of our societies, to be recognized in their dignity, to be welcomed, protected, raised, accompanied, promoted and integrated.” This appeal is even more pertinent in Africa facing the challenge of covid-19 pandemic.

In this volume of Flashes, several confreres and collaborators share with us what they are doing in the area of JPIC-ED in our province. I take this opportunity to thank all those who are actively involved in the work of JPICED and to appeal to all confreres saying, it is your business too! Stay safe!

Aloysius Ssekamatte, M.Afr.
Provincial