Ordained after Assassination Attempt, Bishop in South Sudan Lauds "The Pact of Catacombs" on 2nd Episcopal Anniversary

Bishop Christian Carlassare at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese on his second Episcopal Anniversary on 25 March 2024. Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Diocese of Rumbek

On his second Episcopal anniversary, Bishop Christian Carlassare of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek in South Sudan has reflected on “The Pact of Catacombs”, a November 1965 document that a section of Catholic Bishops participating in the Second Vatican Council signed to express their personal commitments to the ideals of the Council.

In his homily during the Monday, March 25 celebration, the Bishop whose Episcopal Consecration was delayed after he was shot in both legs on 26 April 2021  highlighted the 13 commitments of the Bishop signatories, lauding their particular focus on evangelical poverty and a simple lifestyle.

“We sign this not to be better than the others, to show off, but really to find a very evangelical way to be Bishops, and also to hold the Church to that evangelical spirit,” Bishop Carlassare said, recalling the spirit of the Bishop signatories of the document that is also known as the “Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.”

The Bishops, initially 42, “pledged to live according to the ordinary manner of their people in terms of housing, food, means of transport, and related matters,” the Local Ordinary of Rumbek Diocese said, highlighting the first of the 13 commitments.

Bishop Christian Carlassare at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese on his second Episcopal Anniversary on 25 March 2024. Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Diocese of Rumbek


The Catholic Bishop signatories, who later increased to 500 resolved to “definitively renounce the appearance and reality of riches, especially regarding to our manner of dress (rich material, loud colours) and symbols made of precious materials (they should in reality be evangelical signs) ... Neither gold nor silver.”

They also renounced the possession of “real estate, goods, bank accounts etc. in our own names; if it should be necessary to have them, we will place everything in the name of the diocese, or of charitable and social works.”

Reflecting on this commitment, Bishop Carlassare said, “This is very important for the Bishop or any minister because of course the Diocese needs to have a bank account but he (the Bishop) has to be transparent and give an account.”

“Even myself, my option was, let me receive the same amount (monthly allowance) that the Diocesan Priests receive ... I receive the same,” he said, adding that other funds coming to the Diocese go directly into facilitating the implementation of the Diocesan projects, and not to him.

The Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) also disclosed that he “renounced” Mass stipends, and that he celebrates Holy Mass “free for the people of God every day”.

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The Bishop signatories of “The Pact of Catacombs” resolved, whenever it would be possible, to “entrust the financial and material administration in our dioceses to a commission of competent laity, conscious of their apostolic rôle, so that we may become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.”

Reflecting on this commitment, Bishop Carlassare described himself as a shepherd in Rumbek Diocese, and cautioned, “A Bishop is not an administrator. When people say, ‘we are under your administration’, (I say), no, I’m a shepherd here. I'm not an administrator.”

“The Bishop embraces everything, but he's not the one dealing with properties, with money, with resources; this is the work of the departments in the curia, in a committee, in a commission,” the 46-year-old Catholic Bishops said at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese during the March 25 Eucharistic celebration to mark two years since he was Consecrated Bishop.

In “The Pact of Catacombs”, the Catholic Bishops who had gathered in the Domitilla Catacombs near Rome on the evening of 16 November 1965, some three weeks before the close of the Second Vatican Council, also resolved, “We refuse to be addressed, orally or in writing, by names or titles which signify prestige and power (Eminence, Excellency, Monsignor...). We prefer to be called by the evangelical title of Father,”

During his March 25 homily, Bishop Carlassare, who has applied this commitment by continuing to sign his documents, “Fr. Christian”, even after his Episcopal appointment and Consecration narrated the criticism from Fr. Benjamin Madol, a member of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese.


“Father Benjamin saw that I was writing, ‘Fr. Chris”, and he said, ‘be what you are; you are Bishop’. It’s true; but I don’t call you ‘hey Priest’; I call you Fr. Benjamin,” Bishop Carlassare said, adding that while people are free to address him as they wish, his preference is the “evangelical title of Father”.

In other commitments, the Catholic Church leaders resolved to “avoid anything which may seem to confer priviledges, priority or any preference for the rich and powerful” including “banquets, offered or accepted, class distinction during religious services”; to dedicate their time “to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese”, supporting pastoral agents “who the Lord calls to evangelize the poor”.

They also resolved to “avoid the fostering or pampering of the vanity of anyone, in order to seeking reward or solicit donations, or for any reason whatsoever. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal participation in the cult, the apostolate and social action.”

Other commitments relate to “the demands of justice and charity, and their mutual relationship”, and the engaging of stakeholders to realize “laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women”.

The Catholic Church leaders also committed themselves to participating, “according to our means, in the urgent investments of the episcopates of poor nations”, and to demanding that international entities “adopt economic and cultural structures which no longer manufacture proletarian nations in an ever richer world, but which will permit the poor masses to overcome their misery.”

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In committing themselves to sharing their lives with members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Laity “in pastoral charity”, the signatories of “The Pact of Catacombs” pledged to strive to have their Episcopal Ministry “constitute a true service” by renewing their lives with the people of God under their pastoral care, fostering collaboration, being “more humanly present, more welcoming ... show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion.”

“On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us by their understanding, collaboration and prayers,” the Catholic Bishops stated, and implored, "MAY GOD HELP US TO BE FAITHFUL".

In his March 25 homily, Bishop Carlassare said he found inspiration in the commitment of the Bishop signatories of the “The Pact of Catacombs”, and added, “I think there is no point today to be Bishops in the church unless we really subscribe to these principles in different ways.”

“This is also a call of transformation for the Church, not only for the Bishops themselves. So, as I feel inspired by these and try to apply them, I ask you to help me to live these principles and I ask you, maybe little by little, also to pick up (the 13 commitments) as Diocese of Rumbek,” he said.

Bishop Christian Carlassare at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese on his second Episcopal Anniversary on 25 March 2024. Credit: Fr. Luka Dor/Diocese of Rumbek

At his first Episcopal Anniversary last year, the Local Ordinary of Rumbek Diocese presided over the consecration of the South Sudanese Episcopal See to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“At the end of the Eucharistic Celebration we did an act of consecration of the Diocese of Rumbek to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” Bishop Carlassare recalled his Act of the Consecration in his WhatsApp note to ACI Africa on 25 March 2023.

In the note, he reiterated the “Yes of Mary”, and acknowledged with appreciation the Yes of his predecessor, Bishop Caesar Mazzolari.

The Catholic Church leader, who started his Priestly ministry in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese in 2005 also recognized the Yes of the members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Laity in Rumbek Diocese, saying, “My Yes stands on theirs.”

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