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“I’m well, improving, I’ll be with you”: Bishop-elect to South Sudan’s Rumbek Community

Bishop-elect for South Sudan’s Rumbek on 27 April 2021 at the Nairobi Hospital where he is being treated for gunshot injuries in his legs. Credit: ACI Africa

The Bishop-elect for South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese who is nursing gunshot injuries in Nairobi, Kenya, has sought to reassure the people of God in Rumbek that he is out of danger and that he plans to return  to the South Sudanese Diocese.

In an ACI Africa video recording from his hospital bed at The Nairobi hospital, Msgr. Christian Carlassare describes the Monday, April 26 shooting experience as life-threatening and urged reconciliation and “justice with the same heart of God.”

“I take the chance to greet all of you, my brothers and sisters, in Rumbek. I want you to be at peace to know that I’m well here in the hospital in Nairobi,” Msgr. Carlassare says, adding that he is receiving good medical care, and he is improving.

“It will take some time for my legs to be able again to walk but I assure you that I will be back and I will be with you,” the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries who has ministered in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since arrived in South Sudan in 2005 tells the people of God in Rumbek.

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Msgr. Carlassare was appointed Bishop for Rumbek Diocese March 8. He 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.

He was reportedly the main target of two gunmen who gained access to his room in the early hours of April 26 by shooting multiple bullets on his door in the Fathers’ residence at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese. He was shot in both legs.

In the ACI Africa video recorded Tuesday, April 27, Msgr. Carlassare says, “Let us be united in prayer; let us be united with all our hearts to uphold forgiveness in our community and be able to seek for justice with the same heart of God.”

He describes God’s heart as “a merciful heart that can teach peace and can teach mercy to any person, because these values are present in the depth of each one of us.”

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“As I'm far from you, I feel united to you. Please also be united with me in this process of reconciliation,” the Bishop-elect says in the one-minute video recording.

Speaking to ACI Africa at his hospital bed, Msgr. Carlassare recalled his experiences since the threat on his life saying, “It has really been difficult to face this situation, to face death and to face all the problems that will come out from this shooting. But what made me to suffer most was the suffering of all the community of Rumbek.”

Recalling his message to those who visited him in hospital in Rumbek following his shooting, the Bishop-elect said that the people of God in the Diocese of Rumbek “did not deserve this; that they were in pain because of my bullets in the leg, but they saw that Rumbek was much more in pain than I was.”

“I called to the government and the community and all the people of Rumbek asking for forgiveness: to forgive those that committed this act, forgiveness that is not just being naive and leaving aside errors but correct errors not with violence, but with dialogue and forgiveness. I feel that the community of Rumbek needs much forgiveness to be able to dialogue and to come together,” Msgr. Carlassare told ACI Africa April 27.

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Asked about his need for justice as a victim of the attack, he said, “Certainly, justice is a great element and we need always to seek justice, but not always justice will really heal the heart of a person. Justice must be always accompanied by mercy because the medicine of the human relationship is given by mercy more than justice.”

He went on to express his gratitude to all those who have offered prayer for his healing and recovery including “the Pope that mentioned me in his prayers and many other people that made themselves present, the President of South Sudan, comprising also him and for his attention to me.”

The Bishop-elect urged those who have expressed solidarity with him in prayer “to believe always in the goodness of every person” and cautioned those who reside “outside Rumbek, never to think that Rumbek is more violent than the other places just because of this incident but Rumbek has great riches and values that they can also make them to become fruitful.”

Asked if he feels threatened to return to return to Rumbek Diocese, Msgr. Carlassare said, “This is the mission of the church and the church has never to fear to proclaim the word of the gospel of peace and unity. And we have to be ready to offer our lives for that without fear.”

“I have been welcomed wonderfully by the people in the first days in which I arrived,” he recalled the events of April 15 when he arrived in Rumbek Diocese, and continued, “I passed some days joyfully because I saw a very rich Diocese with many activities that are in place and many potentialities.”

He explained, “I really see that Rumbek has a great future. The people of Rumbek should never play themselves down. They are really in a very favorable situation to have a good journey as a church.”

Rumbek was elevated to a diocese in 1974. The see became vacant in July 2011 following the sudden death of Bishop Cesare Mazzolari. The Comboni missionary Bishop collapsed during Mass on July 16, 2011, a week after South Sudan gained independence. He was confirmed dead at Rumbek State Hospital.

When Msgr. Carlassare was named Bishop of Rumbek last month, nearly 10 years after the death of the Diocese’s last bishop, he described his appointment as an illustration of “the God of surprises.”