Endless Bombing of Sudanese Catholic Community Draws Trapped Residents Closer to God

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

Peace reigns inside Dar Mariam, the residence of the Salesian Sisters in Sudan that is surrounded by heavy gunfire and has been bombed multiple times as war rages on in the northeastern African country.

At the community that is located in Shajara, about seven kilometers from Sudan’s capital Khartoum, people who have been displaced by the war that is in its second year have grown in their relationship with God.

According to Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan, a Catholic priest who served in Sudan for years before the war broke out and is trapped there, residents of Dar Mariam have had a number of life-threatening experiences, a situation that the member of the Salesians of Don Bosco describes as “the experience of the nearness of God” from the time the community was first bombed on 3 November 2023.

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

In a message shared with ACI Africa on Tuesday, May 28, Fr. Jacob describes the war between Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as “forgotten”, adding that the suffering it has caused continues to strengthen the faith of the victims, especially those who sought refuge at Dar Mariam.


 “With the experience of the nearness of God especially in these months of war, to all in Dar Mariam, some of the people including children and young ones, have come closer in their relationship with God! Thus they participate in the daily morning Eucharist, the daily evening rosary service and to crown it all, the daily half-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening with the recitation of the Chaplet to the Divine Mercy,” Fr. Jacob says.

He says that only two of the thirteen parishes in Khartoum have the Eucharist celebrated every Sunday. Dar Mariam, the community of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), also called Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, is one of these two.

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

“The experience of Dar Mariam inmates of the nearness of God has brought a serene and peaceful atmosphere within! Thus, though suffering on many accounts, in Dar Mariam their reigns an atmosphere of peace, joy, contentment and cheerfulness!” the priest says.

Fr. Jacob served as the director of St. Joseph Vocational Training Centre in Khartoum, from where the members of his community had to run away after the war that had broken out on 15 April 2023 in the capital Khartoum intensified.

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The members of the community vacated their premises on 26 May 2023, due to the insecurity that reigned around the institute with heavy bombings and gunfire. 

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

Fr. Jacob shares that while other members of his community left Sudan, he chose to remain and sought refuge at Dar Mariam. Here, he says, the Salesian Sisters “had started a prophetic and marvelous work for the poor.”

 “I offered my service to them which they kindly and gratefully accepted,” he says, adding that the sisters reached out to the poor by offering a meal to those who wanted and offering their residential complex to those who wanted to spend the night to rest.

Barely a month after the war broke out, he says, there were more than three hundred people who were fed by the Sisters and about a hundred and fifty people who came to spend the night in Dar Mariam. 


Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

Today, the war in Sudan that Fr. Jacob describes as “tragic and unfortunate” has caused displacement of people, heavy casualties, as well as pitiable and unimaginable destruction.

Fr. Jacob says that the war has caused psychological and physical trauma for those who chose to remain on in the Sudan. “The war has contributed abundance of fear, hunger, thirst, loneliness, sicknesses, etc. in the hearts and lives of people!”

At Dar Mariam, Fr. Jacob is only allowed two hours of internet connectivity every day. He tries as much as possible to update the world on the situation of the community whenever he accesses the internet.

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

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Dar Mariam has experience at least four attacks, some leading to injuries and massive destruction of the community.

Fr. Jacob narrates that though the war started in April in Khartoum, it gradually spread to the other cities and areas of Sudan. He says that by June, 2023, heavy artillery fire, bombings and explosions began to be heard in Shajara too, sending fera among the inmates of Dar Mariam. 

“By the end of July, 2023, many residents of Shajara began to move out of Shajara,” Fr. Jacob says, adding that by October, 2023, people around Dar Mariam preferred to leave their poor homes and live within Dar Mariam complex for greater safety and security. 

He describes 3 November 2023 as an unforgettable day for the inmates of Dar Mariam, and explains, “A deadly bomb exploded in the residence of the sisters, destroying three rooms and other properties of the inmates. But the Providence of God reigned even at this tragic moment. One sister, a volunteer teacher, three children and their mother sustained injuries from this bombing though not life threatening.”

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

Two days after the first attack, another deadly bomb destroyed the classrooms on the first floor adjacent to the sisters' residence.

On November 10 2023, an evacuation process that had been arranged for the inmates of Dar Mariam had to be abandoned due to a shooting incident. 

The community fell under another attack on 10 December 2023 when a sniper-fire caused a heavy fire and burnt to ashes all the rooms and what was inside, on the second floor of the sisters’ residence. “Once again, Divine Providence did not allow any harm to any of the inmates in Dar Mariam,” Fr. Jacob recounts.

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

He says that by the end of December 2023, Shajara had been surrounded by the RSF forces, causing the closure of markets, shops, pharmacies and other amenities.

Hunger befell Dar Mariam owing to this closure and the sister struggled to feed the people who had sought refuge in the community.

According to the Indian Catholic priest, the cutting off of electrical power since May 2023, has aggravated the suffering of the residents of Dar Mariam. 

Credit: Fr. Jacob Thelekkadan

He says that with the non-availability of charcoal and cooking gas, some generous residents go out of Dar Mariam, at the risk of their own lives searching for dry branches of trees to bring as firewood to cook food.

Everyday food in the community is porridge made from flour or lentils or 'keezra' (a kind of pancake) made of 'shorgum' flour or rice. Without of any vegetables including onions and potatoes, without any type of fruits, without meat or eggs, many residents, especially children have become malnourished very weak, the priest shares.

Additionally, the inability to foresee an end to the war is increasing the psychological trauma of many people who are stuck in Sudan, he says.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.