A bishop-elect is shot in South Sudan

THE RECENTLY APPOINTED BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF RUMBEK IN SOUTH SUDAN, Italian Comboni Father Christian Carlassare was shot several times by unknown perpetrators on the night of April 25-26, local sources reported to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The incident occurred late at night and evidence suggests that it was a targeted and planned attack against the Comboni missionary who was to be installed as bishop of Rumbek May 23. The future bishop was shot several times in the legs and lost much blood, but his life is not in danger. The Diocese of Rumbek, in the center of the country, had been without a bishop for almost ten years.

As reported by the superiors of the Comboni missionaries in Italy, Carlassare himself phoned to inform them that his situation was stable, He told them: “Pray not so much for me, but for the people of Rumbek who are suffering more than me.”

Kinga Schierstaedt, project manager for South Sudan at ACN, explained that “years of armed conflict have made the South Sudanese increasingly vulnerable.” In the requests that ACN receives to help the local Church, “they tell us that they suffer from food insecurity and epidemics; not only COVID but also cholera. South Sudan faces major challenges attributed to civil conflicts, recurring natural disasters such as floods, and economic collapse. Currently it is the rainy season, and the floods and locusts have further worsened the living conditions of millions of South Sudanese,” she said.

Bishop-elect Carlassare (photo courtesy of Comboni Fathers)

In South Sudan several tribes coexist, but they have historically always fought over livestock, a symbol of wealth. The terrible wars and conflicts that the country has suffered have traumatized the population.

The motives for the attack are still being investigated. Although the faithful of the diocese joyfully celebrated the arrival of their new bishop, ethnic animosity is considered one of the possible reasons behind the attack. Bishop-elect Carlassare had been working as a missionary in the neighboring region of Malakal for several years. The majority of Rumbek’s population belongs to the Dinka ethnic group, one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, which is in conflict with other rival herder groups. There has been competition for grazing land and water for their livestock.

However, Schierstaedt noted that “despite the challenges, the Church has been proactive in building bridges among ethnic groups, promoting socio-economic development and providing humanitarian assistance to the suffering population.”

Asking for prayers for the priest’s speedy recovery, Schierstaedt concluded: “This attack fills us with pain, but we must keep moving forward. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Good Shepherd who gives everything to go and find the lost sheep. The appointment of Bishop Carlassare had brought much hope to the diocese. The priests, religious and laity of Rumbek have many dreams and plans. We must support them more than ever so that they do not feel alone.”

—Maria Lozano