By Paul Samasumo – Vatican News
Unknown armed men have shot and wounded the Bishop-elect of South Sudan’s Rumbek Catholic Diocese. The Italian-born Fr. Christian Carlassare, a Comboni Missionary, was attacked on Sunday night in Rumbek.
The gunmen went to his residence, shot at his bedroom door till it opened, and when Fr. Carlassare came out, they shot him on both legs.
They started shooting low at my legs
“In the night at around 1 am, some people came at my door, and they were trying to enter. They shot at my door. When the door was open, I came out and asked what they wanted and then they started shooting low at my legs,” Fr Carlassare narrated to the local media. The Bishop-elect has since been flown to Nairobi for treatment. “You pray for me and pray and pray for the people of Rumbek. We also forgive those that commit these kinds of actions. We do not carry any grudges,” Fr Carlassare said.
No one in South Sudan seems to know exactly the real motives of the shooters. Suffice it to say, ironically, things in South Sudan have slowly been looking up. Slow, but there has been some progress.
The Director of the Vatican’s Press Office, Matteo Bruni, confirmed to Vatican News that Pope Francis was aware of the shooting and praying for Fr. Carlassare and the people of South Sudan.
Silent guns help bring about progress
The Director of the La Salle School of Rumbek, Brother Joseph Alak, recently told Vatican News “There is no fighting at the moment. The truce is holding. We hope that the peace will hold for a long time. The lack of armed conflict is better than a return to war. The guns are silent, and we are hopeful for the future,” said Brother Alak.
The Brothers of La Salle and the community of Rumbek opened a school for boys -thanks to the end of the war. Unfortunately, there are so many guns in the hands of many young South Sudanese men.
An Easter of forgiveness
On Easter Sunday this year, and just as South Sudan made tentative steps towards vaccinating some of its health workers against Covid-19, Archbishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mula of Juba Archdiocese prayed that Easter would bring to South Sudan a spirit of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is Easter itself, and Easter is forgiveness,” Archbishop Ameyu told Vatican News. This forgiveness must begin with us. We must forgive each other from the bottom of our hearts. Forgiveness is complete when we have forgiven others. Through the cross and the resurrection of Christ, we too can experience paradise here in our lives,” said Archbishop Ameyu.
Pope Francis’ concern for South Sudan
For his part, on 11 April 2019, at the end of a Spiritual Retreat organised by the Vatican for the political leaders of South Sudan, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, kissed their feet and implored them to definitely end the war.
“You have begun a process. May it end well,” Pope Francis told them. “There will be disagreements among you, but may these take place in the confines of your offices while, in front of your people, you hold hands. In this way, you will be transformed from mere citizens to Fathers of the nation. As a brother, I ask you to stay the course of peace. I ask you from the bottom of my heart, let us go forward. There will be many challenges, but do not be afraid,” Pope Francis told South Sudan’s leaders and then kissed their feet.
A Christmas Letter of 24 December 2020 from Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland Moderator, Martin Fair, to South Sudan’s Political Leaders encouraged them to stay the course of peace. “We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace. When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation,” read the Christmas message.
The many guns and the “small progress” observed by Pope Francis and the two other leaders in the Christmas message could be the devil in the detail at the heart of South Sudan’s peace challenges. South Sudan’s leaders need to do more. As observed by the United Nations, the slow progress is creating a vacuum open for exploitation by spoilers.
The cost of the slow implementation of the peace
David Shearer, the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told the Security Council at the end of March 2021 that there was need to do more in South Sudan and to build on the gains already obtained.
Shearer told the Security Council, in his final briefing, that after his four-year tour of duty, he was confident that some progress was being made but more needed to be done.
While welcoming the formation of the presidency and Council of Ministers, instalment of a full complement of State leaders and announcement of lower-level officials, Shearer said the Transitional National Legislature had not yet been reconstituted.
There has been minimal progress on constitution-making, transitional justice and economic reform — and perhaps most significantly — the unification of forces was yet to occur. Thousands of troops were just languishing in cantonment sites without shelter, health care or food, said the former UN representative. The slow implementation of the peace agreement was dangerous. It created a power vacuum at the local level, which opened opportunities for spoilers to exploit regional tensions and was fuelling violence.