Pope Francis Meets Bishop-elect for South Sudan's Rumbek Diocese at Vatican

Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare in a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, April 27, 2021, after having been shot in Rumbek, South Sudan. Credit: ACI Africa

On Monday, Pope Francis met the South Sudan bishop-elect whose consecration was postponed last year after he was shot in the legs shortly after his nomination to lead Rumbek diocese.

Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, 11 days before his episcopal consecration, scheduled for March 25.

The pope, who is dueset to visit South Sudan’s capital city of Juba on July 5-7, prayed for Carlassare after the attack, according to the Vatican.

Carlassare, a member of the Comboni Missionaries, was shot in both legs in April 2021, just over a month after Pope Francis named him bishop of Rumbek, filling a vacancy that had lasted for almost a decade.

The 44-year-old Italian had served as a missionary priest in South Sudan’s Malakal diocese since 2005.


He was shot during the early hours of April 26, 2021, when two armed men fired multiple bullets at his door, gaining access to his room in a block that houses priests serving at the Diocese of Rumbek’s Holy Family Cathedral.

After initial treatment in Rumbek, he was airlifted to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. He was discharged from the hospital for home care on May 17, 2021.

In a video recording from his hospital bed the day after the attack, the bishop-elect described the shooting as life-threatening but called for reconciliation and “justice with the same heart of God” among the people of Rumbek.

“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,” Carlassare said.

The Diocese of Rumbek became vacant in July 2011 upon the death of Bishop Cesare Mazzolari, who was also a Comboni Missionary.

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On May 5, 2021, before his discharge from the hospital, the bishop-elect said that he was imploring God for an end to “violence, division, [and] selfish desires” in the diocese of Rumbek.

“I bend low in front of God to intercede for the church of Rumbek. I pray for the conversion of sinners,” Carlassare said in a message recorded by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“I offer the pain I’m going through so that the Lord our God may purify the church of Rumbek from all errors and things like these may happen no more; no room for violence, division, [and] selfish desires that come from the devil.”

In June 2021, police in South Sudan’s Lakes State arrested a second person suspected of involvement in the shooting.

The arrest brought the number of those detained concerning the incident to six, among them Father John Mathiang, who served as Rumbek’s diocesan coordinator.


As of November 2021, the suspects in the shooting were detained in Juba, having been transferred from Rumbek.

Two of the six suspects were freed at the start of this month because of what a judge called a “lack of evidence against them,” reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

The Diocese of Rumbek serves around 200,000 Catholics in central South Sudan, an area with a population of 1.7 million.

The town of Rumbek was the capital of the country following the end of the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005 until South Sudan’s independence in 2011, when the capital moved to Juba.

Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.