The Untold Story of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese, Archbishop-Elect Has His Work Cut Out

Archbishop emeritus of Juba, South Sudan, Paolino Lukudu Loro (left) and Archbishop-elect, Stephen Ameyu (right)
Credit: Public Domain

The story of those protesting against Pope Francis’ transfer of Bishop Stephen Ameyu from South Sudan’s Torit diocese to Juba Archdiocese seems to have received significant media coverage. There seems to be no evidence that the narrative of those at home with the planned change of guard in the Archdiocese has been given media visibility.

From the start of the protests outlined in the December 12 protest letter signed by three clerics and five lay Catholics, to the message of the Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan expressing support for the Holy Father’s appointment, to the clarification of the official Bari Community leadership, distancing itself from the protesters,  to the sentiments of a lay Catholic regarding the protests,  to the renewed protests following the reconfirmation of the Papal transfer, to the March 8 attack of Fr. Nicholas Kiri, among others, the narrative of the protesters has dominated.

An Archdiocese endowed with so much

Relying on sources in Juba and seeking to make sense of the protests against the planned installation of the Archbishop elect, slated to take place this Sunday, March 22, the new Archbishop seems to have his work cut out, ACI Africa has gathered from multiple sources.

It is the untold story of lamentations about a Church institution endowed with so much, human and other, but, according to multiple sources in Juba, lagging behind in stewardship and servant leadership after the example of the person of Jesus Christ.

The only Metropolitan See of the world’s newest country, South Sudan, the 17-parish Catholic Archdiocese of Juba is served by some 110 priests, 50 diocesan priests in active ministry with only four of them aged 70 and above, others being members of different Religious Orders and Societies of Apostolic life, a source in the Archdiocesan Secretariat told ACI Africa.

Some of the religious and missionary congregations involved in parish ministry in the 25,137 square-kilometer Archdiocese include the Comboni Missionaries, Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, Salesians of Don Bosco, and Franciscan Missionaries.

The others in various specialized ministries are the Apostles of Jesus, Order of Friars Minor, Daughters of Mary Immaculate Missionaries, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ursuline Missionary Sisters, and Daughters of St. Paul.

The Archdiocese has St. Lawrence Minor Seminary with at least 80 students. At the Juba-based St. Paul’s Major Seminary, at least a dozen seminarians from the Archdiocese are training to become priests.

The Brothers of St. Martin de Porres and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are the two indigenous congregations existing under the overall leadership of the Archbishop of Juba. Members of these congregations serve mainly in education and health facilities.

“The Archdiocese of Juba has very generous faithful willing to support the Church,” a source told ACI Africa, adding that six of the 17 parishes are within Juba township.

Evangelization at the grassroots is spearheaded by at least 270 mostly-untrained catechists spread over 250 village prayer centers.

The Archdiocese has a dozen kindergartens, a couple of secondary schools and at least 14 primary schools.

Archbishop emeritus

The two dioceses of Torit and Yei were carved from Juba Archdiocese, which, for 37 years, has been shepherded by 79-year-old Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro, a South Sudanese Comboni missionary and a native of Juba.

“He was a strong Catholic leader who stood firm for the faith and for many years of conflict in our country, was guided by the teaching of Jesus Christ,” a lay Catholic based in Juba told ACI Africa referencing Archbishop Lukudu.

He also acknowledged with appreciation Archbishop Lukudu’s role in the liberation struggle of South Sudan, standing “with the people during difficult times of war.” He intervened for the freeing of some prisoners, saving them from torture and death.

“Most of the priests of the Archdiocese of Juba have passed through his hands,” the Juba-based lay Catholic told ACI Africa.

Last November, the cosmopolitan Archdiocese culminated its yearlong centenary celebrations under the overall leadership of Archbishop Lukudu.

Unity in diversity tested

During the November 1 event, a multiethnic composition of over 700-person choir animated the colorful Liturgy. The ceremony brought together South Sudanese living in their country’s capital, demonstrating unity beyond tribe, language, socio-economic status, among other distinguishing factors that are part of the country of over 60 tribes.

This unity in the rich diversity of the various ethnic groupings that constitute the Archdiocese of Juba was put to the test when the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop Stephen Ameyu as the new Archbishop of Juba was communicated last December.

The first protest letter addressed to the Vatican-based Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples came out before the Pope’s appointment was officially announced, an unusual practice that demonstrates a violation of the pontifical secrecy.

ACI Africa has reached out to the Vatican officials for clarification but both the Nairobi-based Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Bert van Megen and the Juba-based Charge d’Affaires, Msgr. Mark Kadima have declined speaking on the Juba controversies, citing the sensitivity of the issues involved and the diplomatic protocol.

Divisions among the clergy

Over time, multiple sources in Juba have told ACI Africa that the rejection of Bishop Ameyu, a non-Bari, was not a big surprise for those familiar with the nature of the divisions among the clergy of Juba Archdiocese.

“There were going to be some form of protests about any candidate the Holy Father appointed,” a South Sudanese priest told ACI Africa.

Over the years, three groupings could be identified, said the Juba-based cleric who spoke to ACI Africa on condition of anonymity.

He explained that one group of priests was in the camp of Archbishop Lukudu.

“Sometime in the past when there was a rift between the Archbishop and his Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio, cracks emerged in the Archdiocese, with a faction of the clergy rallying behind the Auxiliary as he made strongly worded criticisms against South Sudan government, including the person of the President Salva Kiir,” the cleric said, recalling the second camp of priests in the Archdiocese.

The third grouping comprised priests who were neither for the Archbishop nor his Auxiliary, the priest said.

The priest did not know if some members of the various Religious Orders serving in the Archdiocese might have been affiliated with any of the three camps.

“Archbishop Lukudu did not support the establishment of the Catholic University in South Sudan; instead, he is working for St. Mary’s college, which is (an) indication that he is for tribalism,” a Juba-based lay Catholic told ACI Africa and added in reference to the 79-year-old Archbishop, “He did not attend any graduation ceremonies since the Catholic University of South Sudan started to graduate its students.”

Fostering tribalism

Archbishop Lukudu has supported priests from his Bari tribe and treated them “on friendly and preferential basis,” a priest who did not want his name to be made public told ACI Africa, emphasizing the display of favoritism that has been demonstrated in appointments.

With almost half of the priests of the Archdiocese being Bari, the tribal card has been used to foster a divide-and-rule administration that has characterized the leadership of Archbishop Lukudu, the South Sudanese Juba-based priest said, expressing hope for a neutral mind with the appointment of a new Archbishop.

While the priests of the Archdiocese of Juba belonging to the Bari community are the majority of a single tribe, “the Mundari are the dominant ethnic group in the Archdiocese of Juba; the Bari come in second,” a lay Catholic faithful, a native of Juba, told ACI Africa.

“That’s why the Mundari Catholics were tasked to lead in animating the centenary celebrations,” the Catholic faithful added, referencing the liturgy during the November celebration.

Other communities within the Archdiocese include the Nyangwara, the Lokoya, the Lulubo, the Pojulu, and the inhabitants of Juba city who hail from various South Sudanese communities.

“There are very story sentiments of tribalism in this Archdiocese. Our Archbishop has not helped to address the unfortunate situation, if anything, he has promoted nepotism, being very unkind and uncaring to some of us,” a cleric of Juba Archdiocese disclosed to ACI Africa in lamentation.

“Some of us have lived for years like sheep without a shepherd,” the South Sudanese priest revealed.

There are priests with questionable moral lifestyle who have been appointed to prominent positions. As a result, cases of the moral standing of priests have not been taken seriously by the regime of Archbishop Lukudu, the priest said and explained, “those in higher positions in the Archdiocese seem to lack the higher moral ground for a credible fraternal correction.”

“Some lay people are asking whether Catholic priests in Juba have been allowed to marry,” he further disclosed.

It is this mess in the Archdiocese that could have prompted the protesters against Bishop Ameyu to concoct unfounded stories of concubines and children, the priest said, adding that the new Archbishop will need to address the question of priestly celibacy and what another source in Juba called “public scandal” in the Archdiocese of Juba.

The Archbishop-elect will have the daunting task of bringing closer to himself all priests, regardless of tribe, educational level, or any distinguishing factors, taking them all as his immediate collaborators in a deliberate bid to address the challenge of nepotism in the Archdiocese. Ensuring that the priests have the very basics of life including a roof under their heads, food, and other necessities of life seems a crucial priority, multiple sources in Juba have told ACI Africa.

For justice and a sense of responsibility to the global Catholicism and the faith of the people of God in the local Church, the new Archbishop will be required to carefully scrutinize candidates to oversee Archdiocesan offices as objectively as possible, taking the advantage of being a non-native, the priest said.

Resources of the Archdiocese

Behind the rejection of Bishop Ameyu, another priest told ACI Africa, are the resources of the Archdiocese, with a number of assets leased and rented out for monthly income in excess of at least tens of thousands of US dollars.

“This is the most economically viable See in South Sudan, with large parcels of land within the capital city of our country and possibilities to acquire even more,” the priest said, adding that some of the tenants on properties of the Archdiocese are international companies and non-governmental organizations.

“Our Archbishop would have loved to be the one naming the heir, and knowing the tribal networks in our Archdiocese, the choice of an outsider, a non-Bari, was undoubtedly a huge disappointment,” the priest who did not want his name made public due to the sensitivity of the information told ACI Africa, a narrative that was repeated by others sources in Juba Archdiocese.

“This is why the protests started even before the rest of us came to know officially that Bishop Ameyu had been appointed the new Archbishop,” the Juba-based South Sudanese priest further disclosed, referencing the possible violation of the pontifical secrecy on the part of Archbishop Lukudu.

In the 1980s, when the Orthodox Christians were leaving Juba for fear of the 1983-2005 civil strife, the Catholic Archdiocese acquired some of their properties, which bring income to the Archdiocese, multiple sources told ACI Africa, providing the background of the properties of the Archdiocese.

The Chinese Pearl Hotel in Juba, which the Chinese are hiring is a property of the Archdiocese, multiple sources in Juba told ACI Africa. Other leased properties include the area opposite St. Theresa’s Cathedral, the land behind the Brothers of St. Martin de Porres, the area at the river site, and the land down from St. Comboni Secondary School slopping to Lologo, sources have said.

The Norwegian Ambassador’s resident belongs to the Archdiocese as well as the offices of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Some land has been sold to religious communities, like the Daughters of St. Paul Sisters, various sources revealed.

Details about St. Theresa Rural Development Bank, listed among the 30 approved banks in South Sudan with a national status and 2016 as the year it started operations, remain a secret of the Archbishop and perhaps a few people only known to him, a source in Juba Archdiocese told ACI Africa.

“I cannot specify the monthly income from these properties and very few priests of the Archdiocese, if any, might be aware of what their collective assets as members of the Archdiocese generate,” the source said and added, “I would put it between USD70,000.00 and USD100,000.00 of monthly income.”

Confirming the details about the assets, a clergy of the Archdiocese told ACI Africa, “While I have no evidence of mismanagement, though I have heard some people speak about it, there is a lot of secrecy around funds in this Archdiocese, with some business deals having been privately signed with some foreign companies.”

The South Sudanese cleric confirmed his awareness of talk about the sale of part of seminary land to some Chinese company. The matter has usually remained at the level of “rumors, but quite widespread and it seems credible that indeed, seminary land has been disposed to a non-Church entity,” the priest said in reference to the sale of seminary land.

“With all these deals and secrets, the Archbishop wanted to be the one appointing his successor,” the priest said and added, “We know that in the Catholic Church, things don’t work that way.”

“I also know that the Archbishop did not expect his successor to be named too soon,” the priest also said and explained, “in the mind of the Archbishop, the Holy See was prioritizing filling the vacant diocese like Rumbek and Wau.”

Religious Orders in Juba Archdiocese

There have also been lamentations from the Religious Orders ministering in the Archdiocese, some crying foul in the manner the Archdiocesan administration seems to show “greed and keen interest in grabbing properties from religious congregations,” a source in Juba told ACI Africa.

The new Archbishop will need to foster collaborative ministry with the religious missionaries in the Archdiocese, including favorable policies around property ownership, multiple sources said.

“The Archdiocese of Juba has not allowed the religious to own their own properties,” a religious missionary told ACI Africa and added in disagreement, “everything, land, structures on land are in the name of the Archdiocese.”

Vocation to priesthood, religious life

A religious priest lamented about policies around the recruitment of candidates for the Major Seminary. “Those with the desire to become priests who have gone through ordinary secondary schools are blocked, reserving the chance exclusively to those from a minor seminary. The lack of a structure for discerning one’s vocation at the level of the Archdiocese seems to foster this unwise policy,” the religious cleric noted and bemoaned, “the Archdiocese sees the priesthood as any other kind of job.”

The new Archbishop will need to review the recruitment process of seminarians and their formation journey, including an assessment of the policies in place, if any. As the Juba-based religious priest advised, the new Archbishop will need to make priestly vocation awareness the duty of each priest, reaching out to Catholic families so that young people “feel free to respond to the call of God to become priests and religious.”

“Given that most children in Juba Archdiocese are being brought up in polygamous families, catechesis at the level of families seems critical,” the religious priest said.

Youth apostolate

The dozens of youth who stormed the residence of the priests at St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish March 8 and assaulted Fr. Nicholas Kiri, appointed to chair the installation committee, are a reflection of the failure of youth apostolate in the Archdiocese, a lay faithful based in Juba told ACI Africa a couple of days after the attack.

The remark by the Juba-based lay Catholic seems to corroborate the observation of a religious cleric ministering in the Archdiocese.

“The youth in this Archdiocese have limited their participation in Church activities to singing,” the cleric said, bemoaning the lack of youth formation into persons modeling their lives on gospel values as well as the conspicuous distance between the priests and the young people.

“The experiences of trauma the youth have lived in the face of the civil conflict over the years are not ventilated within the Church and the young people seem to be on their own,” he added and expressed the hope that the new Archbishop will have youth apostolate among his key priorities.

Work cut out for the new Archbishop

The administrative structure of the Archdiocese is not clear, multiple sources told ACI Africa, pointing to the need of the new Archbishop to urgently constitute the college of consultors, a presbyterial council, as well as a financial council, all with their respective mandates. Together with other relevant personnel in the Archdiocese, a clear pastoral vision will need to be designed, and have the Pastoral, Liturgical, and Catechetical (PALICA) institute revived to coordinate the evangelization ministry in the Archdiocese, a religious cleric reflected.

The new Archbishop will need to consider initiating a financial revolution in the Archdiocese by establishing communication channels with the stakeholders of the Archdiocese about funds, a source told ACI Africa as a way forward.

He added, “Archbishop Ameyu will need put in place some financial reporting mechanisms, to promote a level of transparency on incomes, expenses, Archdiocesan projects, among others, putting in place some system of public reporting.”

With a leadership that shows a degree of transparency and accountability, particularly on Church-related infrastructure and evangelization, “people will be motivated to contribute beyond anyone’s expectation,” the source further said. 

In addition, he will have to prioritize the needs of the pastoral agents, including men and women religious as well as catechists and other lay leaders, the two latter groups in dire need of training in very basic catechism of the Catholic Church, a religious missionary priest in Juba told ACI Africa.

The new Archbishop will be expected to “invest in the training of catechists as well as the formation of the lay faithful who seem scattered, like sheep without a good and caring shepherd,” the religious cleric added.

He further said in reference to the Archbishop-elect, “The new Local Ordinary will need to orient the priests ministering in the Archdiocese to go beyond the mere celebration of the Sacraments, especially Sunday liturgy, and seek ways (that) touch the lives of the people in line with what Pope Francis called smelling like the sheep.”

The foreign cleric underlined the need to take seriously army chaplaincy, as well as prison and hospital apostolates in the Archdiocese.

The new Archbishop will be expected to address the pastoral service to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in the area covered by the Archdiocese, with concerns that some priests have reached out to IDPs on tribal basis and that (the) Archbishop emeritus has not included the camps in his pastoral itineraries, the religious cleric said, a matter corroborated by multiple sources in the Archdiocese.

Considering the state of Juba as the epicenter of the recent political conflict, the new Archbishop is taking up leadership over traumatized people of God including their pastors. Some clerics of the Archdiocese have sought consolation in alcohol, with cases of some seen visibly drunk at different times of the day, a source in Juba told ACI Africa.

Healing programs that are thorough enough to reinstate the mental, psychological, and spiritual health of the pastoral agents will go a long way in fostering evangelization in the only Metropolitan See of the world’s newest nation, multiple sources have suggested.

The 17-parish Archdiocese endowed with resources has half a dozen parishes without places of prayer in the name of a church structure, some without priests’ residences.

More parishes will need to be established and have the youth engaged in active parish ministry and church-related initiatives that will cushion them from the attractive shows of the mushrooming Christian sects in the country’s capital city. To pull it all together, the new way of being Church in Africa through Small Christian Communities (SCCs) will be something the new Archbishop will need to discuss with his immediate collaborators, the priests and religious men and women, a missionary in the Archdiocese suggested.

“We have been looking for a man of God able to listen to his priests and to the people of God under his care without minding where one comes from,” a cleric told ACI Africa, expressing the hope that the new Archbishop will “cultivate unity with and among priests, religious, missionaries as well as the faithful and the different groups in our local Church.”

Last word

That the Archbishop-elect has lived to tell the story of his rejection, including the experience of testimonies against him in his own presence, when person after person walked into the hall during the January Vatican-led investigations, testifying under oath why he was not the suitable candidate to shepherd the Archdiocese, reveals a man of tenacity and a strong character.

However, whether or not Archbishop Ameyu, after the March 22 installation, will be able to turn the lamentations into appreciations and the protests into regrets and conversion, time will tell.

Overall, it looks like an unenviably daunting task for the 56-year-old South Sudanese Prelate, a feat that can only be accomplished by a man of deep faith in the person of Jesus Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, and intimately connected with the living God, creator of all that is, visible and invisible.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]