South Sudan’s Bari Community Distances Itself from Protesters to Papal Transfer

Venue of the conclusion of the yearlong centenary celebrations in Juba, South Sudan in November 2019
Credit: Public Domain

The leadership of the Bari community in South Sudan has, in a letter, responded to critics who have termed members of the indigenous of Juba tribalists following letters signed by individuals belonging to the tribe, including some clergy of the Archdiocese of Juba, opposing the appointment of a non-Bari to head the Metropolitan see.  

“Those indigenous clergy and faithful Bari who have rejected the appointment of the new Archbishop for Juba (Archdiocese) (do) not reflect the position of the entire Bari Community (BC) or their Association i.e. the Bari Community Association (BCA),” reads in part a statement signed by the Chairman of the Juba-based association, Hon. Cornelio Bepo Lado Kenyi.

The BCA’s statement clarifies that those who have expressed the rejection of the Papal transfer “have not been mandated by neither the community nor the association.”

There have been two letters protesting the decision by the Holy Father to transfer 55-year-old Bishop Stephen Ameyu from Torit diocese to Juba as the Archbishop of South Sudan’s only metropolitan see, one dated December 10 and another on the day the appointment was announced, December 12.

All those opposed to the Papal transfer who have put their grievances in writing belong to the Bari tribe and some signed the letters “as community elders,” the leadership of BCA acknowledged in its December 23 statement obtained by ACI Africa.

Particularly referencing the December 12 letter signed by three Juba Archdiocesan priests and five lay people, BCA leadership has expressed awareness of the backlash the content of the letter created among those who engage social media.

The letter “sparked a lot of reactions in the social media with many negative references labelling the BC as tribalistic community just because those who appended their signatures to the letter happen to come from the Bari tribe,” Hon. Kenyi’s statement reads.

The eight signatories of the referenced letter stated, at the beginning of their six-page strongly worded message, “We, the undersigned, are the indigenous clergy and faithful representing the majority of concerned people of the Archdiocese of Juba.”

The clarification made by the BCA leadership, copied to senior Bari members in South Sudan’s Executive arm of government, that is, Vice President Dr. James Wani Igga and the Governor of Jubek State headquartered in Juba, seems to discredit the claim of representation in the December 12 protest letter.   

Referencing the signatories of the letter opposing Pope Francis’ appointment, BCA leadership has stated, “To be clear, they have neither sought the opinion of the Bari on the subject under reference nor have they (been) delegated to do so.”

In a bid to clarify what regulates the Juba-based association, BCA leadership has reiterated, “No Bari will speak on behalf of the BC except when mandated by its leadership (BCA) and as guided by the BC Constitution.”

In issuing the statement, BCA Chairman emphasized, “I’m asking those who take the rejection expressed by the indigenous clergy and faithful against the appointment of Bishop Stephen Ameyu as the Archbishop of Juba to be an entire Bari position on the subject matter not to take it as such.”

“Please, stop staining the Bari image as they don’t know and are not aware of what the Catholic Church Cannon laws (are) all about,” BCA leadership has stated referencing the Bari members they represent who form the single majority tribe in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

“Not all the Bari are Catholic; many belong to other Christian denominations and others are Muslims,” the leadership has stated.

BCA leadership has interpreted the written protests against the Papal appointment as a manifestation of a fight over power and clarified, “BC is not a forum for power struggle, be it in the earthly or heavenly institutions.”

“BC stands for peace, humility and justice and will not sacrifice its dignity and truth to corrupt leadership wherever they are,” the Bari community leadership has concluded in their statement copied to media houses in the world’s youngest nation.

Meanwhile, in addition to Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SCBC) that brings together heads of dioceses in Sudan and South Sudan, the appointment of Bishop Ameyu as the Local Ordinary of Juba Archdiocese has the full support of his native community members, the Ma’di, as expressed by the leadership of the Torit-based association in its December 17 message seen by ACI Africa.

“Your Lordship the Most Rev. Stephen Martin Ameyu Mulla, we, the Ma’di community of Torit state, congratulate you on your appointment as Metropolitan Archbishop of Juba,” the Acting Chairperson of Ma’di Community, Koma John Silvester stated at the diocesan conference hall in Torit December 17.

The leadership added, “We are confident that your spiritual leadership will promote the ecumenical endeavours of the Catholic Church in South Sudan at this time of national distress.”

Responding to members of his native tribe, the Archbishop-elect said, “The Lord is choosing me to take another bigger cross, which I am unable to carry, I know it, but because of the will of God, I have accepted to carry this cross.”

In an exclusive interview with ACI Africa, the Archbishop-elect described the Papal appointment as part of the mysteries in his own life.

“Our life is a mystery; I have never thought that I was going to be a Bishop of Torit Diocese; now I have been a Bishop of Torit Diocese for eight months,” the South Sudanese Prelate told ACI Africa and added, “I have never also thought of being elevated to the Archbishop of Juba Archdiocese but I see myself again going there.”

“It is not my choice but it is the choice of God and in obedient to God and in obedient to the Vicar of Christ, Holy Father Pope Francis, I have accepted this difficult task,” the Archbishop-elect said told ACI Africa in the December 13 interview, a day after his appointment was made public.

He added, “I think God is the one directing me, I don’t have any control in that thing, in that job, it is the job of God and I am really thankful to those who have given me confidence for this appointment.”

ACI Africa correspondent in South Sudan, Peter Mapuor Makur contributed to this story


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]