Back-and-forth Protests against Juba Archbishop-elect Get Violent, Emeritus Breaks Silence

St. Theresa's Cathedral Parish church, Catholic Archdiocese of Juba, South Sudan, the venue where Archbishop elect Stephen Ameyu is expected to be installed on March 22, 2020
Credit: ACI Africa

Pope Francis’ reconfirmation of his earlier appointment of South Sudanese Bishop Stephen Ameyu as the new Archbishop of Juba was expected to put an end to the controversies around politics of succession in the only Metropolitan See of the world’s youngest nation.

However, protests against the Archbishop-elect have resurfaced, this time taking the form of not only written threats but also an attack on Juba-based clerics, an incident that has seen the Archbishop emeritus, Paolino Lukudu Loro break his silence, condemning the violence.

On Sunday afternoon, a group of Catholic youth attached to St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish, Kator, of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese, identified as members from the dominant ethnic group of the Archdiocese, the Bari, stormed the residence of priests at the parish, beating up and injuring one cleric while two managed to flee.

“The priest was attacked in his house and dragged to the Cathedral church before he was rescued by security personnel,” a source in Juba told ACI Africa Tuesday, March 10 referencing the attack on Fr. Nicholas Kiri and added, “The attackers are a group of youth from Kator parish.”

Fr. Kiri, injured during the Sunday attack and later treated at a Juba hospital, is expected to oversee the committee organizing the March 22 installation ceremony of the Archbishop-elect, the Delegate of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas announced at the March 6 Press Conference held at the South Sudan Apostolic Nunciature in Juba.

“I have formed a committee, consisting of some parish priests, as well as some priests of the Archdiocese of Juba, who are holding administrative positions in this local Church,” the Vatican diplomat, Msgr. Kulbokas told journalists in Juba last Friday and added, “This committee will be headed by the Episcopal Vicar for the Clergy and Religious in the Archdiocese of Juba, Rev. Fr. Nicholas Kiri.”

At the Press Conference, Msgr. Kulbokas announced that Pope Francis had reconfirmed his earlier appointment of Bishop Ameyu as the Shepherd of the people of God in Juba Archdiocese after months of investigations following a series of protest letters opposing the elevation of the 56-year-old South Sudanese Prelate.

“I am here on behalf of the Holy See, being Delegated by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, acting under the mandate of the Holy Father, to facilitate the preparation and to supervise the installation of His Grace Most Rev. Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla as the new Archbishop of Juba,” Msgr. Kulbokas, a native of Lithuania, told the Press on Friday.

He added, “As you know, this appointment was made and announced on 12 December 2019, which was then followed by an investigative process concerning some allegations that had been presented by some individuals.”

Multiple sources told ACI Africa that a Vatican-led delegation was in South Sudan capital, Juba, the week of January 6 to investigate the accusations leveled against the Archbishop-elect and the process leading to his appointment.

In the strongly worded letters, the protestors who included priests and some lay faithful, all from the Bari ethnic community claimed that the Archbishop-elect “has two concubines and six biological children”; a native of the Archdiocese would have been appointed; and that some clerics of Juba Archdiocese alongside government officials had conspired with the officials of the South Sudan Nunciature to have the Bishop of South Sudan’s Torit diocese promoted for their own personal interests.

Flanked by the Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in South Sudan, Msgr. Mark Kadima, Msgr. Kulbokas told journalists in Juba the Vatican-led investigations that involved a thorough process of scrutiny and interviews under oath found “that those serious allegations have no grounds.”

“The (investigation) process was made in a very concrete way, trying to understand the allegations and the basis, the facts of these allegations and the basis of these allegations,” Msgr. Kulbokas said during the March 6 Press Conference in Juba responding to a journalist who asked about the findings of the investigation, which the Holy See spearheaded.

“When those who made this investigative process collect information, they transmit all the documentations, not only the conclusions but also what the persons in the investigation said concretely,” the Vatican diplomat disclosed.

In the case of the Juba investigations, “effort was made to interrogate directly … those who were presenting those allegations in order to understand who and why … because the allegations were very serious,” the Rome-based Papal Delegate further revealed.

He added still referencing the scrutiny into the allegations against the Archbishop elect, “In this issue the investigation was made in the most possible detailed way. Normally we are not doing second investigation but, in this case, the second investigation was made in a very serious way.”

“The Holy Father was informed of what were the allegations and what were the answers of persons who were presenting the allegations during the investigative process and the Holy Father recognized that the evaluating process was done in a correct way and he confirmed Archbishop Stephen Ameyu as Archbishop of Juba,” Msgr. Kulbokas revealed.

He concluded, “It means that the Holy Father considered that those serious allegations have no grounds.”

The decision by Pope Francis following the rigorous process of investigation has not gone well with a section of the Bari, the single majority tribe in Juba.

The Sunday attack on priests based at St. Theresa’s Cathedral and the threatening letter issued by those describing themselves as “the representatives of various groups of the indigenous faithful (clergy, chiefs, women and youth) of the Archdiocese of Juba” seem to demonstrate a lack of acceptance of the Papal decision and an open rebellion from the protestors.

“This installation will not happen under our watch. The Nuncio or his surrogates can only install Bishop Ameyu on the Cathedra of Juba over our dead bodies,” reads in part the Press Statement dated Sunday, March 8 and distributed Monday, March 9 after a press conference called for earlier in the day to present the statement failed to take place.

Signed by four lay Catholics of Juba Archdiocese, the protestors ignore the narrative from the Holy See and claim that the officials of the Vatican discredited “the testimonies and evidence of 36 persons given under oath.”

“We are crying foul because something is wrong with this candidate and something else went wrong in the process of the appointment,” the signatories to the March 8 press statement state and add, “The Vatican officials in Juba have not told the Holy Father the truth about the matter.”

“We want the case to be looked at again by an independent investigation,” the protestors appeal, expressing their allegiance to the Holy Father as one who they “owe absolute obedience … as the Successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth.”

However, while Msgr. Kulbokas, the Delegate of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made it clear during the March 6 press conference that he is in Juba “acting under the mandate of the Holy Father,” the protesters question his credibility and term the press statement he presented to journalists “fake news fabricated in Nairobi,” where the Apostolic Nuncio to South Sudan, Bert van Megen, resides.

“We cannot understand how Msgr. Kulbokas can be delegated by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples when the Prefect of the same Congregation, His Eminence, Luis Antonio Cardinal TAGLE, has just asked the Apostolic Administrator of Juba to go to Rome, on 14th March 2020, to “look into issues that arose regarding the recent appointment of the Archbishop of Juba, the Most Reverend Stephen Ameyu,” the protesters probe.

The four-page letter contains a series of threats ahead of the installation of the Archbishop elect, which they term a “catastrophe.”

“Since the catastrophe that has hit us is (worse) than Coronavirus, we are hereby declaring all churches and prayer centers closed. Any priest or lay faithful entering any church shall do so at his or her own risk,” the protesters threaten.

They add, “All activities related to the preparation for installation of Ameyu are hereby declared illegal and shall be dealt with accordingly. We advise the public not to risk so much and for nothing.”

The signatories to the March 8 press statement declare the withdrawal of “all lands which were given to the Catholic Church or were about to be given to the Catholic Church.”

“The chiefs and lawyers are hereby directed to enforce this community resolution through the rightful procedures,” the members of the Bari, the indigenous of Juba, write in reference to their threat to take back land given to the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba.

“There is absolutely zero chance that Bishop Stephen Ameyu will ever serve as Archbishop of Juba even if he is forced on us on 22nd March 2020,” the protesters state on the last page of their press statement.

“The forceful installation, even if it succeeds, will certainly not be the end of the story,” They threaten as part of their conclusion in the statement that highlights seven previous protest letters.

Whereas the Archbishop emeritus, Paolino Lukudu seemed silent in the face of previous protest letters, the March 8 attack on the clerics of St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish in Juba and the subsequent letter from members of his ethnic community has caught his attention.

In the Monday, March 9 press statement, Archbishop Lukudu expresses his sadness upon hearing the news of the attack of the clerics that involved a confrontation between some youth and security officers at the Cathedral Parish.

“I have learnt and seen that some faithful and some church personnel sustained some injuries,” the Archbishop emeritus states and adds, “Thanks be to God that no life was lost. I am unhappy to hear of violent threats and hostilities.”

“I urge all diocesan priests, religious and faithful of the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba to refrain from violent activities and (desist) from violent threats and hostilities,” the 79-year-old South Sudanese prelate appeals.

Referencing the two priests who fled their residence following Sunday afternoon attack, the member of the Comboni Missionaries says, “Let the priests who left their communities come back immediately.”

In his statement, he encourages the clergy and religious in the Archdiocese he has administered since February 1983 to “work together toward unifying our faithful.”

“We must avoid divisive politics and reckless utterances which lead to animosity and violence,” he adds and urges “our young people not to engage in acts of violence against whichever group.”

“We are capable of solving our own issues and differences through dialogue,” the Prelates says.

A source in Juba has lauded the move by the Archbishop emeritus to break his silence over the protests against his successor saying, “This is what he (Archbishop Lukudu) should have done long time ago.”

“The protesters respect him. Peace is at home now,” the source told ACI Africa Tuesday, March 10.

Peter Mapuor Makur, ACI Africa correspondent in South Sudan, contributed to this news report.


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