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South Sudanese Catholic Clerics among a Dozen Arrested Following Bishop-elect’s Shooting

The Bishop-elect of South Sudan's Rumbek Diocese, Msgr. Christian Carlassare airlifted to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through the services of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) for specialized treatment. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Three South Sudanese Catholic Clerics are among 12 people who have been arrested following the shooting of the Bishop-elect of South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese in the early hours of Monday, April 26, multiple sources in Rumbek have told ACI Africa.

Msgr. Christian Carlassare who was appointed Bishop for Rumbek Diocese March 8 was shot in both legs when two armed men shot multiple bullets on his door, gaining access to his room in a block where Fathers serving at Holy Family Cathedral of the South Sudanese Diocese live.

He received initial treatment at the health facility under the auspices of Doctors with Africa CUAMM in Rumbek and later airlifted to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through the services of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) for specialized treatment.

At least five sources in Rumbek have told ACI Africa that three members of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese are among those arrested in connection with the April 26 shooting.

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Speaking to ACI Africa April 26 on condition of anonymity, one of the sources said that the security officials handling the case in South Sudan’s Lakes State are following leads from “a cell phone” found at the scene of crime alongside the phone of one of the Catholic Clerics, which the security offers confiscated.

“When the two men shot the Bishop-elect, one of them dropped down his phone and the Bishop fell on it. It is this phone that the security used to find the people connected,” the source said.

Among those arrested following the shooting are members of the Clergy and “other prominent lay personalities in the Diocese of Rumbek,” the source disclosed, adding that 12 people are being linked to the “physical evidence of the cell phone found where the Bishop-elect was shot.”

The arrests of the suspects follow the directive from the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, for “an expeditious investigation” to identify, apprehend, and prosecute the perpetrators of “this heinous crime.”

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In his statement issued April 26, President Kiir says he “learned with dismay the unfortunate incident that involved the Rt Rev. Christian Carlassare, Bishop-elect of Rumbek Diocese, who was shot last night by the unidentified gunmen.”

“The reprehensible act of violence meted on him is unacceptable and it must stop. I call upon all South Sudanese to condemn the criminals who carried out this heinous crime in the strongest terms possible,” the President says in the statement shared with ACI Africa.

“If those who carried out this shameful act were doing so to intimidate the Church, they are sadly mistaken,” President Kiir further says, adding that the Bishop-elect “was chosen to lead and authorities in Lake State will stand by him and will not allow action of few criminals to affect the plans of ecclesiastical authority.”

He directs “authorities in Lake State to carry out an expeditious investigation that will lead to lawful apprehension and prosecution of criminals who perpetrated this crime.”

 

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In his statement, the South Sudanese President implores, “I pray for God to strengthen the Rt. Rev. Carlassare’s faith in serving our people so that he can come back to his flock with renewed determination to serve the faithful in the Diocese. I wish him speedy recovery.”

In what seems to be initiatives to implement the President's directives, Deputy Governor of Lakes State confirmed to ACI Africa in an interview that some people have been apprehended.

“Investigations are underway, and we have link information to find suspects. Some arrests have been made and more are being made, hopefully within the next 24 hours, something substantive would have been done by the government regarding the shooting of the Bishop,” Poth Madit told ACI Africa April 26.

Mr. Madit termed the attack on the Bishop-elect as an “isolated incident” perpetrated by a group of criminals whose network, he said, has already been established.

“Hopefully within the next 24 hours, we may apprehend the actual culprits. Of the arrests so far, we are questioning some of the people in the Church,” the Deputy Governor further said and added, “The arrests are going on but when I left from where people are being taken, there were about eleven.”

In an April 26 statement, the leadership of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) condemns the attack on Msgr. Carlassare saying he was the “sole target of the attack.”

“The event leading to this unfortunate development and other relevant information, it has become clear that the Bishop-elect was sole target of the attack,” the leadership SSHRC states.

“The Commission hereby condemns this barbaric act in strongest terms possible and urges both the State and National Government to institute an investigation committee to conduct thorough investigation with the aim of holding the culprits accountable,” the leadership of the Juba-based Commission further says.

It adds, “While the Government conducts its investigation, the Commission urges the faithful to remain calm as we shall closely monitor the investigation and equally do our own fact finding and keep the general public informed of any latest developments.”

Msgr. Carlassare had been serving in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since he arrived in the East-Central African country in 2005.

The Italian-born Comboni Missionary Cleric traveled to Rumbek Diocese April 15 following days of spiritual retreat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

His episcopal ordination was scheduled to take place on Pentecost Sunday, May 23.

As he left Rumbek’s Teaching for further treatment in Kenya, the Bishop-elect appealed for prayers and asked for forgiveness for the perpetrators of the attack.

“Pray for me and let’s all pray for the Diocese of Rumbek that God may have mercy on us and receive His graces,” Msgr. Calassare implored and added, “We also need to forgive those who committed this kind of action.”

The Bishop-elect who will turn 44 in October further said, “Let us be united in prayer, let us be good Christians and trust the Lord and that the Lord may do something good. I thank the doctors, Priests and people of the Church for being with me during this moment of suffering from the night till now.”

He has also reassured his Comboni Missionary confreres that he is well, inviting them “to pray especially for the people of Rumbek who – in his words – ‘are suffering more than him’ (and) that he forgives his assailants.”

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.