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Bishop-elect in South Sudan Concerned about Growing Inter-Communal Violence, Deaths

The former Coordinator of Rumbek Diocese, Fr. John Mathiang, welcoming Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare in Rumbek Diocese on 15 April 2021. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Bishop-elect of South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek has expressed concerns over growing inter-communal violence that has left more than twenty young people dead in Lakes State, a region covered by the episcopal see he is expected to administer.

In his Sunday, April 18 homily, following his appointment last month, Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare called for an end to what he described as unnecessary civilian deaths in the East-Central African country. 

“I am worried about the deteriorating security situation caused by pastoralists in Lakes’ (State) cattle camps,” Fr. Christian Carlassare told the congregation at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese and added, “It is regrettable that the young people are losing lives for no reason.”

Last weekend, 22 youth from the cattle camp were reportedly killed and 21 others wounded over grazing land in three different areas of the South Sudanese Diocese, according to Good News Radio of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek that is part of the Catholic Radio Network (CRN) in South Sudan and Sudan.

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“What happened yesterday (Saturday) on this side of Rumbek, it is not good; it is ambition, it is pride, it is blindness,” Bishop-elect Carlassare said in reference to the reported killings.

“What is it that youth end up fighting in this way with people getting killed?” he probed and added, “The young people need to embrace a peaceful way of living with one another. They need not to choose to die because of cattle.”

According to multiple media reports, the government’s interventions to calm the situation were unsuccessful due to poor accessibility to the scenes of the violence.

“The government forces went in advance but the areas were not accessible,” state Police Spokesperson, Captain Elijah Mabor Makuac was quoted by CRN as saying.

He added, “It is hard to ascertain the cause of the fight but according to the information received before the clashes, both sides were all waging war against each other.”

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Captain Mabor explained that quelling the conflict in the areas of Manyang Rel, Mayielic and Kuet Wuong is difficult because the communities involved in fighting are well armed, making it hard to arrest perpetrators.

“Everybody is aware that our communities are more armed than the organized forces and so it is not a surprise to us that some fights happen with minimal intervention of the government forces,” Mabor was reported as saying.

Asked about the origin of the clash, he said, “We cannot say anything about what happened because we don’t have evidence and what really went wrong because we are not on the ground.”

The Chairperson for Rumbek County Youth Association, Matuet Makur, condemned the incident, terming it “useless”.

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“Taking someone’s life has no benefit,” he said, and called on the youth to be the backbone of the country and act as peace ambassadors.

Maker Makur Mangar, who is a Member of Rumbek Youth Union, blamed the educated youth for not being united to champion for peace, adding that resolving cases of inter-communal fights in Rumbek East is difficult because the youth support conflicting sections.

The Bishop-elect arrived in Rumbek Diocese April 15 following days of spiritual retreat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

Welcoming the Bishop-elect in the Diocese, Fr. John Mathiang who has been overseeing the administration of the South Sudanese Diocese as Coordinator since December 2013 described the arrival of the Italian-born Comboni Missionary as “a joyful moment.”

“It is a pleasure for me to welcome our Bishop among us, it is a joyful moment in the history of our diocese, a growth for the Church, that the Word of God and the message of Christ will reach to everyone,” Fr. Mathiang said April 15 at Rumbek airport.

Addressing himself to the Bishop-elect, the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese said, “We have come here to receive you with whole hearts joyfully, then working together, united together and to build the Church together because God has called us to serve Him at this particular time.”

“We are so joyful my lord bishop to come here (airport); you are most welcome, celebrate together with this gift of the bishop among us, our shepherd who will guide the Church to grow and then we move together for the kingdom of God,” Fr. Mathiang further said.

Addressing those who assembled at Rumbek airport to receive Bishop-elect Carlassare, the Governor of Lakes State said, “Today we are receiving our Bishop-elect of Rumbek diocese. We are very happy for your coming, our Bishop and our father. Welcome to Rumbek and feel at home. As a community and as government we receive you and welcome you highly; feel at home among your people.”

On his part, the Bishop-elect acknowledged with appreciation the airport reception he was accorded saying, “Thanks governor, thank you ministers for this wonderful welcome, thank you to all the people who came here. I know that whole Rumbek is here now and I am very happy for your welcoming.”

“I will be your child, the son of this land, and I am very happy to be part of you. I call you all to unity to what we are called in future, all united as one in Christ,” Bishop-elect Carlassare added.

He continued, “I know I am coming to a place many people worked before me and for this reason, I don’t come from behind to push you, getting in front of you to pull you here and there. We will journey together without pulling you left or right.”

Rumbek Diocese became vacant in July 2011 following the sudden death of Bishop Caesar Mazzolari. The Comboni Missionary Bishop collapsed during the celebration of Holy Eucharist on the morning of 16 July 2011, one week after South Sudan’s independence, and was confirmed dead at the Rumbek State Hospital that morning.

Fr. Fernando Colombo, a member of the Comboni Missionaries governed the Diocese as Diocesan Administrator until 27 December 2013, when Fernando Cardinal Filoni, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, appointed Fr. Mathiang Diocesan Coordinator.