, 12 March, 2020 / 2:15 AM
The South Sudanese Juba-based priest who was attacked by a group of Catholic youth protesting the appointment of a new Archbishop has, in an interview with ACI Africa, shared about the Sunday, March 8 episode saying he has no grudge with the youth and that they might have been misguided and “manipulated by someone.”
“These are our boys; I feel that something has gone wrong otherwise they would have not done what they did,” Fr. Nicholas Kiri told ACI Africa correspondent Wednesday March 11 referencing the group of Catholic youth that stormed his residence at St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish, Kator in Juba on Sunday and beat him up.
He said that the youth, numbering about 60, “must have been misinformed by someone, manipulated by someone, I don’t know, for his or her purposes.”
He related the attack to his decision to announce to the Sunday congregation Pope Francis’ reconfirmation of the appointment of Bishop Stephen Ameyu as the new Archbishop of Juba and the details about his pending installation, a move that was not accepted by some members of the dominant ethnic group of the Archdiocese, the Bari.
“On Sunday, I celebrated the Mass in Bari language, a routine duty,” Fr. Kiri recollected the events of March 8 morning and continued, “When the time for the announcement came, the announcer who is a youth leader appeared to have doubted the official document from the Vatican.”
“There is this letter from the Vatican but it has no signature and stamp, therefore I doubt this letter and I am not announcing it,” Fr. Kiri recalled the words of the youth leader toward the end of the morning Mass and that the youth leader spoke in Bari language.
At that point, the Parish Priest of the St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Fr. Thomas Igga, approached Fr. Kiri and told him, “Father the official document from Vatican for announcement today has actually been taken away from the announcement and therefore we would expect that it would never be announced. Now it is you to announce it.”
“I saw that it is now my responsibility to announce,” Fr. Kiri told ACI Africa and added, “I got up and called the attention of the Church.”
He recalled clarifying to the congregation that the letter in question “is not fake, I know its origin, it’s official and it has the stamp.”
“I know the correctness of the content and the content is that the new Archbishop of Juba, Bishop Stephen Ameyu, will be installed at St. Theresa’s Cathedral on Sunday, 22 of March 2020, at 10 O’clock,” Fr. Kiri who is expected to oversee the committee organizing the installation ceremony as announced at the March 6 Press Conference by the Delegate of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, had told the Sunday congregation.
When he left the Church after Mass, four youth approached him and told him, “Father, look, what you have announced, you did it and this is really very bad and we warn you,” Fr. Kiri recalled.
“They were angry; I could read from their faces. They were four young people; may be aged 25, 26,” the South Sudanese cleric recalled the Sunday 10 a.m. encounter and added, “They then went away and I went on my way” toward the Fathers’ residence.
A few steps towards the Fathers’ residence within the premises of St. Theresa’s Cathedral Parish and Fr. Kiri was in an encounter with one of the Bari chiefs who, the 61-year-old priest of Juba Archdiocese calls, “came to me and greeted me cautiously and told me, ‘look you are our boy, you are ours, we share a language because we are the same; don’t enter into this case.’ Then he told me, ‘this case will involve death’”.
Before the angry chief left Fr. Kiri to proceed to his residence, he also said, “These days (we) will not even fear Miri (government in Bari language).”
The rest of the morning seemed calm as Fr. Kiri spend it at his residence.
When he was preparing to return to the Cathedral for prayers scheduled to take place at 3 p.m., he recalls, at around 2:30 p.m., “I just saw from our gate, I would estimate about 60 young people, opening the gate with force and coming in in a hurried manner, rushing to the building and I saw from the window. I knew there was some trouble coming.”
“They came and stood at all doors so that no chance of escape,” Fr. Kiri recalled, bargaining with himself whether or not to lock the door of his room.
“Why should I close myself in? What wrong did I do to be afraid of anyone? Did I really do anything wrong?” he recalls and decided to open the door of his room.
“When they saw me, they rushed in saying, ‘he is here’, screaming,” he narrated.
“They told me, ‘surrender the key of the house, the house is not yours. It is ours; we are the Christians; we are the Church.’ I found it (key) very quickly and I threw it to them. Then they said, ‘the key of the car, bring the key of the car. The car belongs to us.’ I gave to them,” Fr. Kiri who belongs to Yangwara tribe that speaks Bari language recalled during the interview with ACI Africa correspondent.
One youth hit him with “a very serious blow” on the neck and “I went down with my head on the ground … but still I had the strength to get up” and then led him outside the gate of the Fathers’ residence toward the Cathedral building.
“I was taken like under arrest and I submitted to them so they would do anything with me,” he said and added in reference to the youth, “They drove the car to the Cathedral and the car up to now is still there.”
“They took me to Church because that is where they were meeting,” Fr. Kiri explained and recalled the sympathy he received from a section of the youth who attacked him.
“I got out of their hands because there are some good people among them who knew me and they saw me and became sad. And somehow some of them, even with certain signs, seem to have indicated to me not to worry. They were saying in their signs, wait, we will do something,” Fr. Kiri disclosed and added, “Probably a small group detached itself from the (main) group.”
It was a member of this small dissenting group of the protesting youth that facilitated getting the house and car keys back to Fr. Kiri, he said during the interview.
“They are our youth,” he said, adding that the protesting youth “made me to sit under arrest without being told why I was there” and that there were, among the youth, those who treated him with insults and others who “were assuring me to be calm.”
“There are our boys. I feel that something has gone wrong, otherwise they would have not done what they did,” Fr. Kiri reflected and added in reference to the mob of the youth who attacked him with blows, falling twice on his face, “May be they must have been misinformed by someone, manipulated by someone, I don’t know, for his or her purposes.”
While the announcement he made at the Cathedral that Sunday morning about the decision by the Holy See to have the Archbishop-elect Ameyu installed on March 22 might have triggered the assault on him, Fr. Kiri sees the attack as part of a wider plot to intimidate him as the Coordinator of the activities leading to the installation of the new Archbishop.
“They should have seen my name and obviously if they saw my name, whoever is reacting would have seen me a dangerous guy who has been introduced into the system and so I have to be managed,” Fr. Kiri told ACI Africa referencing the role he was given to oversee the committee organizing the installation ceremony.
“I am not angry against the youth; they are my children,” he said and added, “If they wanted to kill me, they would have killed me, given their number and the anger. They were not in for killing; I guess it seems they wanted to send a strong message.”
The anger of the crowd of the youth, Fr. Kiri said, seems “directed against the Pope.”
“But when I heard they wanted the Pope to come here to them, then I was like, do they even know who the Pope is in the world; do they know the figure of the Pope in the world? So, I understood there is something lacking somewhere,” Fr. Kiri probed and reflected.
He wondered what had come of the same young people he had seen sing together during the centenary celebrations of Catholicism in the Archdiocese of Juba.
“I am just surprised that all of a sudden from our good singing together, when we remember the centenary days when we sang and praised the Lord together; no matter the tribe we came from, we were there as brothers and sisters,” he said and cautioned, “We should not give ourselves too quickly to resentment, to fears and anger.”
He expressed his love for the youth who had attacked him describing them as “people we sing in Church together.”
He regretted the subsequent attack on the youth who seemed to side with him saying, “I was sorry to learn that in fact behind me, as I left, several youth got beaten, physical injuries on their heads.”
“That is not what we should be doing,” he said and added, “We should be together again, there is nothing better than brotherhood, sharing and being together.”
He said preparations for the installation of the Archbishop-elect are ongoing and that “with God’s help, we hope to achieve what has been given to us by way of assignment.”
“We know the situation is completely not favorable, but even all the more now we think this is the time really to dedicate ourselves, our energies to do something good for our Church,” Fr. Kiri said and added, “We pray and rely on the power of God. If it is His work, on the 22nd we will have the installation.”
He described the protests around the Archbishop-elect and the attack on him as an opportunity “for our edification” rather than “discouragement.”
“We are trying to build our Christian sense; the sense of being a Christian is not easy,” Fr. Kiri said.
He called on Catholics across the globe to pray for the Catholic community in South Sudan.
“As a Catholic community all over the world, we should not be discouraged, rather share with us your prayer so that through your prayer we grow in Christ every day,” Fr. Kiri said.
To the Catholic community in Juba Archdiocese, he said, “Let us come back to ourselves; we have strayed a little bit. We should just retrace our way back to the right path and God will always reconcile us with himself and with one another.”
Peter Mapuor Makur, ACI Africa correspondent in South Sudan, contributed to this news report.