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Jubilation, Appreciation, Optimism High in South Sudan Days after New Bishop’s Appointment

Fr. Matthew Remijio Adam Gbitiku, appointed Bishop of South Sudan's Wau Diocese by Pope Francis, November 18, 2020.

Days after the appointment of the new Bishop for South Sudan’s Wau Diocese, members of the lay faithful belonging to the Diocese and others who have interacted with the Bishop-elect have expressed their joy to ACI Africa at the Holy Father’s decision.

Pope Francis appointed Fr. Matthew Remijio Adam Gbitiku last month. The appointment of the Comboni Missionary Cleric, a native of the Diocese, was made public at St. Mary’s Cathedral of Wau Diocese on November 18 and published by the Holy See Press Office.

The Diocese of Wau became vacant in March 2017 after Bishop Rudolf Deng died while undergoing treatment in Germany. He was aged 76.

Dr. Benjamin Apai, a national consultant in Environment who served as Director General for South Sudan’s Ministry of High Education for many years expressed optimism in the leadership of the Bishop-elect.

“I am very pleased concerning the appointment of Fr. Mathew as Bishop-elect. I have seen good reviews about him on social media and Catholic outlets and I am sure that we are very blessed to have him as our new Bishop,” said Dr. Apai, an active member of Wau Diocese.

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He added, “I believe that Fr. Matthew will bring all faithful back together. In the Church, you cannot feel the ethnic division that is out here in South Sudan. We hope that the Bishop-elect will heal the ethnic division which is felt outside the Church so that we can become one body of Christ.”

On his part, Mr. Thomas Taban Denial, a choir member of St. Kizito Parish of Juba Archdiocese said that the appointment of Fr. Matthew was long overdue.

“Wau Diocese has been lacking so many things such as better schools and quality education. The Religious vocations have also been lacking with the absence of a Bishop,” said Thomas.

The participation of Wau Diocese in cultural activities, an activity that the Diocese had once been famed for but which diminished with the absence of a Bishop, would also rise, the Juba-based choir member said.

The 48-year-old Bishop-elect was ordained a Deacon 17 years ago in Lima, Peru where he completed his Theology studies at the Comboni Theological College.

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He was ordained a Priest in Wau Diocese in October 2004 by the immediate former Bishop of the Diocese, the late Bishop Deng.

The Comboni Missionary has held various pastoral responsibilities, including Sudan’s Khartoum Archdiocese Vocations Director, St. Paul’s Major Seminary Spiritual Director, and Vicar General of Khartoum Diocese.

Until his appointment, he was the Vice-Rector and Bursar of the Nairobi-based International Theologate of the Comboni Missionaries.

Ms. Cecelia Lowrance Lual, also a choir member of St. Kizito Parish said she knew Fr. Matthew from Khartoum where the Cleric was a “hard working and humble person.”

“He listens to everybody,” Ms. Lual told ACI Africa in reference to the Bishop-elect, and added, “He is a very experienced person who was admired by the faithful when he was appointed as Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Khartoum.”

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On her part, Ms. Mary John Deng who worked closely with late Bishop Rudolf said the appointment of a new Bishop was a source of pride to the Church in South Sudan and Sudan, which operate under one Episcopal forum, the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC).

“I was extremely delighted to hear the appointment of Rev. Fr. Matthew as Bishop-elect… We are happy when we hear the appointment of any Bishop either from Sudan or from South Sudan as we continue to work under one big Catholic Bishops’ Conference,” she said.

Ms. Deng added, “We are one body of Jesus Christ. We do not mind which Diocese a Bishop hails from. We only need the directives from the Bishop and we will obey all these directives.”

And in her message to the Bishop-elect, Ms. Deng said, “We will stand behind you and support you to serve the people of God and humanity.”

Francis Michael Bingo, a catechist at the St. Kizito Parish of Juba Archdiocese who hails from Wau Diocese cheerfully welcomed the appointment and said he is praying for the protection of the Bishop-elect “until his installation is conducted in Wau.”

The Diocese of Wau was erected as the Apostolic Prefecture of Bahr el-Ghazal in May 1913 before Pope Paul VI elevated it to Wau Diocese in 1974.

Located within the Ecclesiastical Province of Juba, the only Metropolitan See in South Sudan, the Diocese has a population of 3,081,000 Catholics according to 2017 statistics.

Reacting to his appointment in an interview with ACI Africa November 18, the Bishop-elect said he relied on the support of people of God in the Diocese to execute his mandate.

“It is an appointment that is going to put me in direct contact with the local Church, giving me an opportunity to contribute to the growth of the people of God. I look forward to everyone’s contribution,” the Bishop-elect told ACI Africa hours after his appointment was announced.

“Being called to work for the local church is going to be a real pastoral task. There are certainly going to be challenges and I look forward to facing them through the grace of God,” the Bishop-elect said, and added that he was going to continue what his founders, the Comboni missionaries, started.

Juba-based Clement Aturjong Kuot contributed to this story.