By Devin Watkins
“I want to bring concern about the refugees from South Sudan and some few from Congo. We have well over one million refugees in my diocese.”
Ugandan Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of the Diocese of Arua made the appeal in an interview with Vatican News’ Fr. Paul Samasumo.
More than a million refugees currently live in Bishop Odoki’s diocese in Uganda. Most come from South Sudan and a small portion from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first groups arrived in late 2013 after civil war broke out in South Sudan.
Catholic aid agencies, including the local Caritas and Caritas Belgium and Norway, provide tools and seeds so refugees can grow their own food.
Pastoral agents needed
“But there is another need that we are struggling to meet, and that is the pastoral and spiritual care of refugees,” Bishop Odoki said.
Priests are in short supply in the Arua diocese, he said.
Bishop Odoki said his diocese even lacks the financial support to provide shelter for the pastoral agents. “We also lack money to provide for them food, transport, and other personal necessities.”
So the bishop is appealing to religious congregations to send priests and sisters to help meet the refugees’ spiritual needs. “They are welcome,” he said.
Bishop Odoki already expressed his concern to the Ugandan Bishops’ Conference and to Pope Francis during the Ugandan bishops’ ad Limina visit to Rome.
Quick response from local leaders
When the refugees first started arriving, Bishop Odoki said it was quite a shock. In one night refugees filled up the compound of a local parish.
He said local cultural leaders and the Ugandan government responded quickly to the influx of refugees. “We thank the cultural leaders, because they were able to give land, like the Madi people. They gave a lot of their free land for refugees to use.”
Bishop Odoki said refugees were accommodated in settlements. “We don’t want to call them camps,” he said. “We have received them as our brothers and sisters.”
He also thanked the Ugandan government for its “good refugee policies”.
“We are giving them space so they can be integrated in our community. We welcome them as our brothers and sisters, and we want them to stay with us as one people.”