“We’re universal, international”: Apostolic Nuncio Highlights Catholic Meaning on Arrival in Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan

Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, at Rumbek Airport shortly after arriving in the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, South Sudan on 27 April 2024. Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

The fact that the Catholic Church has a global membership, making it universal and international, is a “beautiful thing”, the representative of the Holy Father in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, has said.

Speaking on his arrival in South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek on Saturday, April 23, Archbishop van Megen used St. Luke’s account of the spreading of the Gospel from Jerusalem to “the ends of the world” in the Acts of the Apostles to explain the missionary nature of the Catholic Church and the need to embrace unity in diversity.

“You see the beautiful thing of our Catholic Church is that we are universal, we are international,” the Dutch-born Vatican diplomat said, and went on to identify the national diversity of members of his delegation to Rumbek, who included natives of Romania, Italy, and Kenya.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“We, altogether, are (part of the) Catholic Church,” he said to emphasize the nature of the Catholic Church as universal and international.


Referring to ministry of the first disciples of Jesus in initiating the spreading of the Gospel “throughout the world as we’re reading these days in the Acts of the Apostles,” Archbishop van Megen said that this “mission of the Church is still continuing.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“It’s envisaged that we become one people, one family, from all tribes, from all languages, from all colors, whether you are white or brown or green or yellow, we’re all part of the same Church,” he said.

The Nairobi-based Apostolic Nuncio, who is in Rumbek Diocese for a four-day pastoral trip during which he is scheduled to “visit Catholic Church institutions”, meet with the Clergy, women and men Religious ministering in Rumbek Diocese, and preside over the 10th Anniversary of the presence of the Spiritans in the South Sudanese Diocese reiterated, “We come here to celebrate the universality of the Church, the international Church to which we all belong.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

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On his part, the Local Ordinary of Rumbek, Bishop Christian Carlassare welcomed the Apostolic Nuncio-led delegation to his Episcopal See, saying, “In Rumbek we are very joyful today.”

“It is a moment of joy for all the community,” Bishop Carlassare said, and added, “Thank you to the Government (Lakes State) that is making this time beautiful for us, and are united with us in the work that we are doing as Church.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

The pastoral visit of the representative of the Holy Father in South Sudan and his delegation, the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) said, provides “hope for the future and allows us great hope for evangelization in the Diocese of Rumbek.”

The pastoral visit of Archbishop van Megen and his delegation follows expressions of solidarity with the Local Ordinary of Rumbek Diocese following the acquittal of Fr. John Mathiang Machol, a Clergy of Rumbek Diocese previously convicted and sentenced for masterminding the 26 April 2021 shooting of Bishop Carlassare, at the time Bishop-elect for the South Sudanese Catholic Diocese.


Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

On April 5, members of the Sudan and South Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SSS-CBC) convened an “an emergency meeting” in Juba. Details of the deliberations of the Catholic Bishops shepherding the people of God in Sudan’s two Dioceses and the seven Dioceses in South Sudan were provided in a statement made public on April 16.

In the two-page statement, SSS-CBC members expressed their “deep solidarity with our brother, Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek, following the recent release of Fr. John Mathiang Machol, the main suspect in the attempted murder of the bishop three years ago.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“We condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of violence against a shepherd of the Church. Attacks on religious leaders have no place in a just and peaceful society,” Catholic Bishops in Sudan and Sudan Sudan said in the statement that the SSS-CBC President, Stephen Ameyu Martin Cardinal Mulla, signed.

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Days later, in an April 21 communiqué by the General Council of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) emailed to members on April 22, the Rome-based leadership of the 157-year-old Institute expressed support for Bishop Carlassare following what it described as “recent developments”.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“Dear confreres, in light of the recent developments in the matter concerning the church in Rumbek and our confrere Bishop Christian Carlassare, we wish to express once again our sympathy to him, as a bishop and as a confrere, and our support in his service to the people of God and to the Catholic Church in South Sudan,” the Ethiopian-born Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse Gebresilasie-led MCCJ General Council stated.

During the court hearings in the case that was first mentioned on 26 January 2022, a witness and one of the suspects said the plot to shoot the Italian-born MCCJ member was based on the fact that he was a foreigner, and that a native Clergy would have been a preferred candidate for the Diocese that had been vacant since July 2011 following the sudden death of Bishop Mazzolari.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

Jonah Marier Mabeny, a witness, told the High Court in Juba that Fr. Mathiang had been lobbying to become the Bishop of Rumbek.

“Fr. Mathiang mobilized youth in September 2011 to support him to be the Bishop of Rumbek,” Jonah, identified as youth Coordinator of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, told the High Court on 18 February 2022.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

Jonah also recalled that in 2016, while Fr. Mathiang was serving as Coordinator of the South Sudanese Diocese, the Catholic Priest “ordered” him to assist him draft a letter to the Vatican in which he said Fr. Mathiang was “lobbying for the Bishop's position in Rumbek.”

Days later, during the 23 February 2022 hearing, Laat Makur Agok, who was identified as the last of the then six suspects told the Juba High Court that the shooting of Mons. Carlassare was part of a plot to “scare him away” from Rumbek Diocese.

Alluding to racism and xenophobic sentiments as motives behind the plot to shoot the Bishop-elect, Mr. Makur told judge Alexander Subek Sebur that Fr. Mathiang had shared with him “the breaking news that, it is the white man who is brought as a Bishop-elect.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“We held several meetings with him (Fr. Mathiang) but the last meeting he told me that we don't need this white man and we need to scare him away by gun,” Mr. Makur said.

Testifying in court on 21 February 2022, Fr. Mathiang denied claims that he was part of the plot to shoot the Bishop-elect for Rumbek Diocese.

Alongside four other suspects, Fr. Mathiang was convicted and sentenced for seven years in a 25 April 2022 High Court ruling in which the judge said the five suspects had been found guilty for “participating directly or indirectly” in the attempted assassination of the Bishop-elect of Rumbek Diocese. Later, South Sudan’s Court of Appeal reconfirmed the High Court ruling and doubled Fr. Mathiang’s jail term to 14 years.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

However, in a South Sudan’s Supreme Court order dated March 15, the Justice Dr. John Gatwech Lul-led panel of judges “quashed” all charges against Fr. Mathiang.

In a press conference at Rumbek airport after he landed in Rumbek Diocese on April 23, the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan acknowledged with appreciation the “the warm welcome” he received as he landed in Rumbek.

Archbishop van Megen recognized the presence of the Bishop of Kenya's Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, Bishop John Mbinda, who he said was joining his confreres as they mark the 10th anniversary of their presence in Rumbek Diocese.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

He said he had been “looking forward to this visit” that he said would involve interacting “with the Christians here of the Church of Rumbek.”

The Vatican diplomat said he was also looking forward, “in a special way to the celebration of the 10-year-anniversary of the Spiritan presence here in Rumbek.”

“We pray that the Holy Spirit may inspire us; that the Holy Spirit may guide us; that the Holy Spirit make us have more servants, Christ’s servants of the Father,” Archbishop van Megen, who is scheduled to preside over Holy Mass on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the presence of the Spiritans in Rumbek Diocese on Monday, April 29, said.

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

On his part, Bishop Mbinda expressed gladness to be in Rumbek for the 10th anniversary of the Spiritans there, and thanked God for “this great opportunity to renew ourselves in faith but also impart the importance of the Church in the society today.”

“May God bless this occasion. May God bless all the visitors. May God bless all the people of Rumbek and South Sudan at large,” the first-ever Kenyan Spiritan Bishop Consecrated in June 2022 implored.

Meanwhile, also speaking at Rumbek airport, Hon Stephen Manthing, who represented the Governor of Lakes State described the visit of the Apostolic Nuncio and his delegation as “important”.

“The Catholic Diocese has done a lot during the (struggle for) liberation until now,” Hon. Manthing said, and added, “The Diocese of Rumbek is fully cooperating with the government and the people of Lake State. So, we are happy to have you today with your delegation. It is a blessing for this state.”

Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Rumbek Diocese

“Your coming this morning has brought some showers (of rain); yesterday was very hot; it’s a sign of blessing,” he said, and reiterated, “We are very glad to have you; feel at home.”

Archbishop van Megen is scheduled to preside over the Sunday Eucharistic celebration at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese on April 28 morning, ahead of a meeting with the Clergy and Religious from late morning. 

The anniversary of the Spiritans is take place at Good Shepherd Thon-Aduel Parish of Rumbek Diocese, where the Vatican diplomat is to preside over Holy Mass on April 29 from 10 a.m.

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