Pioneer Catholic Bishop Appointed to South Sudan’s Newest Diocese Upbeat about Serving in “familiar” Harsh Conditions

Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity State, is harsh. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the town, which hosts one of the biggest refugee camps in the South Sudanese State is submerged. 

Those displaced by years of flooding are living under severe humanitarian conditions in camps that also host victims of South Sudan’s protracted civil war. Yet, it is here that Bishop Christian Carlassare is upbeat about continuing his Episcopal Ministry.

According to Bishop Carlassare who has been transferred from South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek to the country’s newly erected Catholic Diocese of Bentiu, Christian faith is not a new concept to the people of God in Bentiu, who he says will be celebrating 100 years of evangelization next year.

The Italian-born Catholic Bishop, who spent all his life as a Priest among the Nuer people has told ACI Africa that the deep faith of the subgroup of the Nilotic people in Bentiu as well as their resilience despite their numerous challenges are his biggest inspiration as he embarks on spearheading the establishment of South Sudan’s newest Catholic Diocese.

“Nuer people are a resilient community that live in very harsh conditions due to conflict and marginalization. Despite that, they have great strength and have a positive attitude towards life. Generosity and solidarity are their assets. They never give up,” Bishop Carlassare, who started his Priestly Ministry in South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Malakal following his ordination in September 2004 says.


He adds, “I am aware of the long journey of faith of the Church in Bentiu from the first mission founded in Yonyang back in 1925, almost 100 years ago, to the growth of the Church especially in the nineties till now. I am very happy that the community of Unity State and Rueng Administrative Area has their own Diocese now.”

The newly erected Diocese of Bentiu has been carved out of Malakal Diocese, which, Bishop Carlassare says, has been a huge territory with communication challenges.

“Communication was so difficult from the parishes to the diocese because of the distances. Therefore, I am really delighted that the Holy Father erected this new Diocese. And of course I am honored to be its first Bishop,” Bishop Carlassare told ACI Africa in the July 5 interview.

To be served by the newly erected Diocese of Bentiu is also Rueng Administrative area, which is a territory populated by the Dinka people.

The Dinka’s ways of life are similar to those of neighbouring Nuer, Bishop Carlassare says, and adds, “The two communities are often at odds and against one another, though they should come to a reciprocal understanding and support.”

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The member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ), who had been ministering in Malakal Diocese since his arrival in South Sudan in 2005 before he was appointed Bishop for Rumbek Diocese in March 2021 feels inspired to work with the Nuer and the Dinka, who he says were the first people to welcome him in the East-Central African nation.

“It was the Nuer first and then Dinka who adopted me into this country. They taught me a new understanding of life and purpose to strengthen the community of faith and build the Church among them,” the 46-year-old Catholic Bishop, who started his Episcopal Ministry as Bishop of Rumbek in March 2022 told ACI Africa. 

The people of God in South Sudan face numerous challenges stemming from years of civil war that broke on in December 2013, just over two years since the country gained independence from Sudan.

Members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC) have recently warned that South Sudan is not at peace as some may think.

“South Sudan is not truly at peace. While there is no serious fighting between major armed groups, sub-national violence is taking place in many parts of the country,” SCBC members said in a statement they issued at the end of their June 27-29 meeting in the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba.


The Catholic Church leaders, who are at the helm of Episcopal Sees in Sudan and South Sudan said insecurity in South Sudan, now manifested as local, ethnic, tribal, and community violence, “is in fact inextricably linked to national political dynamics.”

“While South Sudan has a power-sharing transitional government of national unity, in practice there is an ongoing power struggle between the different political factions, and there is little real cooperation and trust between them,” SCBC members said, and called on the government to seal all security loopholes and prepare adequately for the country’s elections scheduled for later this year.

In Bentiu, thousands of people scarred by war live in crowded refugee camps, where children experience malnutrition.

In the July 5 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Carlassare said that in most cases, the Church is “the camp hospital” that tends to the broken people and heals the wounds of different kinds of trauma.

“The church is the good Samaritan that mobilizes the community to respond to the greatest challenges that deny human dignity,” he said, and added, “The Church is displaced with the people. The Church strengthens the people, unites them, gives them hope not to remain as they are, but to take the struggle for a more dignified life, refusing violence and choosing non-violence as a means to build a more peaceful society.”

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While it is going to be the first time that Bishop Carlassare is setting foot in Bentiu town, he has been to nearby Rubkona, where people experience similar conditions to those in Bentiu town.

“I spent my first six months as a missionary in the Southern part of Unity State, in a rural setup, committed mostly to learn the language and culture of the Nuer people,” he told ACI Africa.

From his experience in Rubkona, Bishop Carlassare proceeded to Old Fangak in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, where he continued his Priestly Ministry for 10 years. Old Fangak is also inhabited by the Nuer people.

The MCCJ member also served in Juba Archdiocese, where he recalls he was pastorally engaged with the Nuer people living in the Civilian Protection Camps erected by the United Nations following the South Sudan civil war. 

“My time in Juba was an opportunity to meet Nuer people coming from all the Nuer counties, including Bentiu,” Bishop Carlassare, who will temporarily continue to shepherd the people of God in Rumbek Diocese as Apostolic Administrator told ACI Africa July 5.

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.