Pilgrimages in South Sudan Providing Fertile Ground for Growth of Religious Vocations

Youths from South Sudan's Catholic Diocese of Rumbek on their peace pilgrimage to Tonj. Credit: Good News Radio/Rumbek Diocese

Nine young men discerning to become Priests of South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Rumbek are part of the 125-kilometer weeklong pilgrimage that the Diocese organized to sensitize local community members in the East-Central African country on the need for peace.

Also participating in the peace pilgrimage from Rumbek, a town in South Sudan’s Lakes State to Tonj, are young women with the desire to join Religious Life.

According to the Local Ordinary of Rumbek Diocese, Bishop Christian Carlassare, young people who desire to join Religious Life in South Sudan encounter numerous challenges, key among them the lack of support from their families.

Girls face most opposition, Bishop Carlassare has told ACI Africa in an interview, adding that spiritual activities such as pilgrimages offer the young people the environment they need to discern their call and to draw strength from the Church.

“We know how difficult it is for a girl here to get the courage to tell the family that they are called by God to serve the Church. It is so difficult for families here to allow their daughters to join Religious Life. It is a long journey for us, but we hope that we will have a mature Church that is also able to produce these vocations,” Bishop Carlassare said in the Tuesday, January 9 interview.


According to the Italian-born member of Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ), pilgrimages allow young people in South Sudan to yearn to be closer to those experiencing hardships, especially in communities affected by violent conflicts.

“While on spiritual pilgrimage, our youths listen deeply to the cries of the people and the needs of society. Through this spiritual experience, the youths are able to have more contact with God and listen to what God may wish for them,” Bishop Carlassare said.

He added, “From our previous pilgrimages, we have had young people join the Seminary to serve the Church.”

“In this particular pilgrimage, we have nine youths that are in discernment desiring to join the Major Seminary next year as Diocesan Priests,” Bishop Carlassare said about the ongoing January 7-14 pilgrimage that has brought together some 100 pilgrims from the 17 Parishes of Rumbek Diocese.

He continued, “In this pilgrimage, we also have a considerable number of young people that are considering religious vocations with our institutes.”

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Since his Episcopal Consecration on 25 March 2022, Bishop Carlassare has paid keen attention to the needs of young people in the Diocese of Rumbek who he says lack the formation they need to explore their dreams.

“When I came to South Sudan and later, specifically to the Diocese of Rumbek, I realized that we cannot remain blind to the large number of youths that come to the Church and see the Church as a home of peace, a home that can give them courage to take strong decisions and work for a community that can be more reconciled and peaceful,” he told ACI Africa.

The Catholic Church leader, who started his Priestly ministry in South Sudan in the Catholic Diocese of Malakal in 2005 noted that young people in South Sudan have big dreams for the future but often are not able to achieve them “because the society is not so friendly with them.”

Youth in South Sudan, he observed, are deprived of education and the possibility of good employment.

“I found that we have many youths in the Diocese of Rumbek who, unfortunately, have poor formation,” Bishop Carlassare said, adding that besides the time of prayer and the singing in Church, “there still exist difficulties in putting into action what we teach them.”


He underlined the need for the Church in South Sudan to not only speak well to the youth but also to gather them and to strengthen them by making them a community that is in communion with each other.

The Catholic Bishop of Rumbek noted that the Diocese has invested in educating the youth in South Sudan, and added, “But besides giving this education, it matters a lot to also form the person with a new heart, a new mind, and a new strength to overcome all that takes away the humanity and the dignity of a person.”

“We therefore started the pilgrimages to bring our youths together, to build them into a community that experiences joy and peace and to stretch them for the journey that they must do. It is a very demanding journey, but we must walk steadily towards the future,” he said.

The Diocese of Rumbek has also started accompanying youth, who take other decisions in life including those embarking on marriage life and professional life.

According to Bishop Carlassare, young people discerning their call in life must be accompanied as they strive to become adults with responsibilities towards the society, the communities they come from, as well as the family.

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Pilgrimages in South Sudan have started to bear fruit, the 46-year-old Catholic Bishop said, and explained, “From the pilgrimages, we are starting to have youths that love the Church more and more.”

“The youths are more and more united, and more committed to the life of the communities in their parishes,” he told ACI Africa, and added, “Through these pilgrimages and other Diocesan activities, we want to build a solid youth ministry where our youths feel at home in the Church.”

The ongoing Rumbek-Tonj pilgrimage has been organized under the theme, “Be Seeds of Hope”, the message that Pope Francis delivered on his peace pilgrimage to South Sudan in February 2023.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.