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Bishop-elect for South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese Envisions Revival of Trauma Healing Center

Bishop-elect for South Sudan's Rumbek Diocese, Mons. Christian Carlassare. Credit: CESAR

The Bishop-elect for South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese who survived an assassination attempt in April is envisioning the revival of the trauma healing center that provided psychosocial assistance to pastoral agents including members of the Clergy and women and men Religious in the East-Central African nation. 

In a “Christmas message” published by the Comboni Missionaries, Mons. Christian Carlassare who has been recuperating from the injuries he sustained in the April 26 shooting acknowledges that he has received immense support from various people of goodwill.

The member of the Comboni Missionaries notes that the revival of the Healing of the Healer (HTH) program of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC) that the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek (DOR) was hosting would benefit other people who have undergone experiences similar to his.

“In light of what has happened to me, I think it is important for the Diocese of Rumbek to give new life to the trauma healing center promoted in the past by our Bishop Caesar Mazzolari,” Mons. Carlassare says in reference to the Catholic Bishop he is expected to succeed who died in July 2011.

The Bishop-elect who turned 44 on October 1 explains the need for the trauma healing initiative in South Sudan that descended into civil war in 2013 saying, “In a context of conflict, all people bear the wounds of a culture or environment that perpetuates violence through the law in which it is the strongest who survive at the expense of the weakest.”

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“I believe it is necessary to reopen the listening center where competent people can propose paths of reconciliation, justice and peace,” Mons. Carlassare further says in his Christmas message published Monday, November 29.

When he was appointed Bishop for Rumbek Diocese March 8, Mons. Carlassare described his appointment as an illustration of “the God of surprises.”

The Italian-born Priest 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.

Credit: Comboni Missionaries

His episcopal ordination, which had been scheduled to take place on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, has since been "postponed to 2022, at a date still to be determined,” the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Bert van Megen, announced in a statement that was dated October 30.

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Rumbek Diocese is currently under the leadership of Bishop Matthew Remijio of South Sudan’s Wau Diocese following his appointment as Apostolic Administrator on May 5.

In his Christmas message, Mons. Carlassare shares the experiences that preceded the attempt on his life and notes that the year had been “the most unusual” in his life.

“The year 2021 has been the most unusual year of my life,” he says, and explains, “I began it with a prolonged celebration of Christmas that lasted about two weeks during which I met with various Christian communities: first in the Cathedral in Malakal, then with the displaced persons in the UN camp outside the town, and in the following days visiting the Christian communities of Koradaar, Palloch and Mellut that had not received a Priest's visit for some time.”

The Bishop-elect recounts having witnessed immense suffering among the communities he visited.

“I saw so much poverty and abandonment, so much frustration for the insecurity and the peace still far to come. Only the resilience of the people and solidarity were signs of a true and lived Christmas,” Mons. Carlassare recounts in his message that was published November 29. 

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He describes his March 8 appointment as Bishop for Rumbek Diocese as unexpected. This, he notes, was shortly followed by the shooting.

Msgr. Carlassare further describes the assassination attempt as a moment of revelation in which he came to appreciate his “own weakness.”

“This incident, to say the least, turned my plans and expectations upside down. I experienced my own weakness. Not only the physical one due to the injury sustained and the slow rehabilitation that, thank God, bore good fruit and allowed me to recover well. But also the weakness due to the fact that I was not able to promote the peace, unity and cooperation to which I aspired so much. It certainly wasn't my fault alone,” he says. 

The assassination attempt, the Bishop-elect further says, also reminded his of the his “poverty and the need to be humble.”

“Forgiveness must be cultivated as a personal choice that costs sacrifice,” he goes on to say, and adds, “This is the starting point for the uphill path of reconciliation, which is always a community journey and which cannot be forced but must mature as a common commitment.”

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“It is well known that violence is overcome only by meekness. In fact, it is preferable to be wounded than to hurt, bearing one's wounds without rancor. The pain with which I began this ministry will perhaps cause people to welcome it. I therefore wish to cultivate hope,” Mons. Carlassare says.

In the message, the Comboni Missionary who has ministered in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since his arrival in the East-Central African nation in 2005 hints that his future plans for the Diocese of Rumbek would include charting a path towards peace and communion living.

“In 2022 we will hold in the diocese retreats for pastoral agents with sessions led by the Solidarity with South Sudan group that will promote listening and sharing to overcome hostility and promote communion. It will then be necessary to continue with programs to train local leaders who can take to heart the resolution of local conflicts or family violence,” the Bishop-elect for Rumbek Diocese says. 

He adds, in reference to the envisioned retreats to be facilitated by Solidarity with South Sudan (SSS), “This process is based on the dignity of each person by overcoming the three common dichotomies: the ethnic dichotomy between clans and tribes, the social dichotomy between those who are powerful and those who count for nothing in society, and the anthropological dichotomy between men and women in a strongly patriarchal society.”

In his 2021 Christmas message, Mons. Carlassare explains the significance of the festive season to the people of South Sudan.

“In South Sudan, Christmas is the feast par excellence because it comes after the harvest in a time of relative prosperity. The population gathers, without distinction of creed or social class, to celebrate life,” the Bishop-elect says.

He adds, “The community comes out enlivened, strengthened and, to some extent, even reborn. It is beautiful then to celebrate the life of Jesus and, in Him, the birth of a new humanity.”

He says that the holy family of Nazareth provides a good example of “great meekness and availability despite the prevailing violence.”

“Jesus made himself present and close to each person with such gentleness that he did not even appear to be God, but was completely human, showing us how we should also be. And it is for this reason that today I see him making himself present in the faces of so many children and young people of Rumbek who look to the Church as the family of Nazareth: ready to welcome them, to protect their lives and give them an opportunity, a hope,” Mons. Carlassare says. 

He implores in reference to children and young people in Rumbek Diocese, “I pray that, responding generously to our Christian call and mandate, we may share with them the new life we have received from Jesus, a life finally free from so many constraints, fears and uncertainties.”

He acknowledges with appreciation women and men Religious alongside the Diocesan Clergy and Lay collaborators involved in “the work of evangelization and human promotion” in Rumbek Diocese.

“The intervention in the field of education is the flagship of the diocese that wants to promote the integral formation of the person and social transformation starting from young people themselves who are the most beautiful resource of the country,” Mons. Carlassare says. 

He expresses his gratitude to all those who have offered him “support, which I continue to receive in many different ways and which now becomes a source of hope for the diocese of Rumbek.”

“I therefore leave you with my sincerest wishes for a Merry Christmas so that by raising our heads we may finally contemplate His light. We are not alone; the Child Jesus is our hope. He teaches us humanity so that we can overcome all hostility and live hospitality,” the Comboni missionary says in his Christmas 2021 message.