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Civil Societies in South Sudan “deeply concerned about” Attack on Foreign Clergy in Rumbek

Placard during peaceful demonstrations in Rumbek, South Sudan against attacks on foreign Clergy in Rumbek Diocese 28 April 2021/ Credit: ACI Africa

Members of Civil Society entities in South Sudan under their umbrella body, the Civil Society Organizations Network (CiSON) have expressed deep concerns about attacks on foreign clergy ministering in the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek.

In a collective statement at the end of the peaceful demonstration they organized in the headquarters of South Sudan’s Lakes State Wednesday, April 28, CiSON officials cited three incidents, including the April 26 attack on the Bishop-elect of Rumbek Diocese.

“We are deeply concerned about the incidents that always occur within the (Catholic) Diocese targeting the Clergy that serve the Church in Rumbek, for example, the 2012 beating of Rev. Fr. Don Bosco Ochieng, the assassination of Rev. Victor Luke Odhiambo SJ in Cueibet in 2018 and now the assassination attempt on the Bishop-elect,” CiSON leadership says.

The peaceful demonstrations started off at the Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese and ended at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) premises with a stop at Lakes State Governor’s office.

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“Stop racial segregation please, our dear people,” one of the placards carried around during the demonstration read.

Another poster cautioned against hatred among church members, bearing the words, “Church to unite to lead by example. We condemn hatred in the Church.”

 “CiSON condemns targeted attack on the Bishop-elect Rev. Fr. Christian Carlassare,” read another placard.

Addressing those who took part in the April 28 peaceful protests at his office, the Governor of Lakes State, Makur Kulang Liei said, “We are grateful to receive you as the angry group that went for peaceful demonstrations. We are also angry for what has happened as a government of Lakes and the Transitional government of national unity; we are protesting in our hearts over what happened to our Rev. Bishop.”

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“The government is concerned both in the national and in the state and that is why you have seen they (South Sudan national government) have sent a high-profile delegation from Juba headed by the IGP. We are here to say thank you for your peaceful demonstration and we want to inform the world and the entire South Sudan that we are working hard to bring these culprits to justice,” the Governor said.

Msgr. Carlassare who is currently at The Nairobi hospital was reportedly the main target of two gunmen who gained access to his room by shooting multiple bullets on his door.

The Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries received initial treatment at the health facility under the auspices of Doctors with Africa CUAMM in Rumbek. 

He had had arrived in Rumbek April 15 following his episcopal appointment on March 8. He had been ministering in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since he arrived in the country in 2005.

In their statement shared with ACI Africa, members of CiSON describe the attack on Msgr. Carlassare as “unfortunate” and “call upon the state government (of South Sudan) to expedite the investigation process and ensure justice reigns in holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

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They call upon the “Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Rumbek to remain calm and united as well as to stand in solidarity and prayer for quick healing of Rev. Carlassare.”

“We remain (observant) to monitor the processes towards the investigation till justice is obtained,” they further say in their statement signed by CiSON chairperson, Hakim Cipuounyuc Awur.

Meanwhile, members of the Fundraising Committee tasked by South Sudan’s Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat (SSCBS) to solicit funds for the episcopal ordination of Msgr. Carlassare have called for “calm and strong faith” amid feelings of disappointment.

“We do understand the disappointment and depression that many people may be undergoing because of the incidence,” the Acting Chairperson of the Committee, Tong Deng Anei, told journalists in South Sudan’s capital, Juba Wednesday, April 28.

In their statement shared with ACI Africa, the committee members describe the attack on Msgr. Carlassare as “the devil’s work.”

“The hateful act on the man of God is obviously the devil’s work directed at an innocent person who willingly accepted his appointment to serve and work with the people of Rumbek,” they say, adding, “Those responsible must be apprehended and brought to justice without failure.”

“We are grateful to the President of the Republic of South Sudan H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit for standing with the Church and the people of Rumbek during this difficult moment and for calling upon the public to remain calm and assuring us of the government commitment to carry out thorough investigation,” the Committee members say in their two-page statement in which they also express their appreciation for the “the vital role and contributions” of the Catholic Bishops, Vatican Diplomats and the Comboni Missionaries.

In an ACI Africa video recording from his hospital bed at The Nairobi hospital April 27, Bishop-elect Msgr. Carlassare reassured the people of God in Rumbek that he is out of danger and that he plans to return  to the South Sudanese Diocese.

“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 said, adding that he is receiving good medical care, and he is improving.