How South Sudan’s Vacant Dioceses Hindered Catholic Bishops’ Role in Achieving Peace

Fr. Gregor Schmidt, a Comboni Missionary in South Sudan's Malakal Diocese

The Catholic Church in South Sudan has had a unique credibility and moral authority throughout the civil wars when there were no functional government institutions, a Comboni Missionary Cleric in the country has said.

In an article published by Sudan Studies, Fr. Gregor Schmidt, a Comboni Missionary ministering in the East-Central African country notes that lack of leadership in some Dioceses thwarted the role of the Bishops’ Conference in working towards peace.

“The South Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SSCBC) has had difficulty gaining influence on the warring parties because many bishoprics have been vacant,” Fr. Schmidt says in an article published in Sudan Studies for Sudan and South Sudan.

In the article titled, “The Church’s Commitment to Reconciliation in South Sudan,” the German-born Comboni Missionary Cleric further notes that in South Sudan, “ethnic belonging is still a strong aspect of the identity of Catholics and of Christians in general, as it is among church leaders.”

Acknowledging the peace building, reconciliation and advocacy efforts of an ecumenical body of the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) comprising seven member Churches and associate Churches in South Sudan, the Cleric says in a document seen by ACI Africa that the organization has been preparatory towards national reconciliation.  


“In this difficult tension between cultural and faith identity, the ecumenical South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), of which the Catholic Church is a founding member, has helped prepare a path towards national reconciliation,” Fr. Schmidt says.

He adds in reference to the South Sudanese Episcopal See of Malakal, “In our Diocese, in whose territory much of the fighting and destruction has taken place, our parish is the only one that has not had to be closed in all these years.”

“In all the other Parishes of Malakal Diocese, the work was stopped for several years,” Fr. Schmidt reiterates.

The Catholic Church in South Sudan is composed of one Metropolitan Archdiocese, that is, Juba, and six Dioceses: Malakal, Rumbek, Wau, Yei, Torit and Tombura-Yambio.

During the six-year South Sudanese conflict that started in December 2013 and ended February 2020, some Catholic Dioceses in the country were vacant while others administered by elderly Bishops.

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The article by Fr. Schmidt was adapted for publication in Sudan Studies in mid-2020 and published in Issue 63 of January 2021.

In his abstract, the Comboni Missionary Priest notes, “I was asked to write about my commitment as a religious person in South Sudan in 2019 by a quarterly magazine in Germany. It reflects my views on issues regarding the Christian faith and the causes for conflict in South Sudan based on personal experience.”

“I am grateful to testify that the True God is worshipped in one of the most unlikely places on earth,” he says, and adds, “The first section provides an insight into how the Gospel has spread in South Sudan.”

Fr. Schmidt further says that the second section of the document describes the country’s violent conflicts and some of their causes, and that “in the third section, I reflect upon the work of reconciliation, which is an integral part of the mission of the Church.”