Rumbek Diocese: where clerics live by mercy of the gun
On April 28, 2021, which is exactly one year ago, Fr. Christian Carlassare, the then Bishop-Elect of Rumbek took to social media via a video to give his faithful assurance that he was recovering from gunshot injuries received at a Nairobi hospital.
He was reportedly the main target of two gunmen who gained access to his room in the early hours of April 26 by shooting multiple bullets on his door in the rectory of the Holy Family Cathedral in Rumbek. He was shot in both legs.
Fr. Carlassare, 44, was appointed Bishop of Rumbek on March 8. He travelled to the Rumbek Diocese on April 15, following a retreat in Juba. His episcopal consecration was to have taken place on May 23.
“I take the chance to greet all of you, my brothers and sisters, in Rumbek. I want you to be at peace to know that I’m well here in the hospital in Nairobi,” Fr. Carlassare said, adding that he is receiving good medical care, and he is improving. Let us be united in prayer; let us be united with all our hearts to uphold forgiveness in our community,” said Fr. Carlassare from his hospital bed in Nairobi.
Fast forward to Monday, April 25, and four people, including a clergyman, were sentenced to various jail terms for an assassination attempt on the life of Rumbek bishop-elect Christian Carlassare.
The Comboni Missionary, Carlassare, who suffered gunshots on both lower limbs in the tragic event, had to go through a long rehabilitation therapy Bishop before being installed as Bishop of Rumbek Diocese on March 25 this year.
Despite being cherished during the consecration, the security of the bishop remains uncertain given the history of previous violence against clerics as well as the retaliatory mode embedded amongst the state’s inhabitants.
Bishop Carlassare’s travails opens a lid on how sometimes men of the cloth have met hostilities from communities where they are supposed to minister.
Rumbek is the capital of Lake State and is a Catholic Diocese.
In November 2018, a foreign Catholic priest, Victor Luke Odhiambo, the then director of a teacher’s training centre run by the Catholic Church in Cuibet (which was reporting to the Rumbek Diocese), was attacked and killed by unknown individuals. And three years later, Bishop Carlassare nearly met the same fate.
The court in Juba, sentenced all four – Fr. John Mathiang Machol, Moris Sebit Ater, Laat Makur Agok, and Samuel Makir – to seven years of imprisonment for organising the attack on Fr. Carlassare.
“On behalf of the Diocese of Rumbek, we acknowledge today’s verdict… We appreciate the commitment and dedication of the government and the court, “the Radio Network quoted Bishop Carlassare.
The judicial decision to bring the perpetrators convicted to book means justice has been served. However, the elephant in the room is whether the community and individuals who apparently had a bone to pick with the man of the cloth are at peace with the Bishop.
The security of the man of God is now central to the Diocese’s operations.Who wanted to harm him and why? Were they working alone or as a group, meaning we still have some elements left within the community?
Archbishop of Juba Diocese, Stephen Mulla Martin Ameyu, points to two critical steps, including the need for reconciliation and the government’s security to guarantee the bishop’s safety as he continues with his pastoral role in the diocese.
“I think that the bishop himself already has a reconciliatory mood during his consecration, and so he will continue to make reconciliation with that particular family. I know the whole diocese needs reconciliation, “he told The City Review.
“Secondly, his security is very important now more than ever. I hope the government will step in to see his security enhanced, “said Bishop Ameyu.
According to Ameyu, the attempt on the bishop’s life was just an isolated incident that came only from individuals who were disgruntled about changes in the diocese, and hoped for a positive relationship between Carlassare’s administration and the congregations of the diocese.
“And so the whole church of South Sudan is with him, all the bishops are with him and I hope everything will continue in the positive line. That is what we hope for – reconciliation – that all bishops of dioceses in South Sudan have to adapt to reconcile our people because there are lots of strives, a lot of killings among our people.”
Fr. Mathiang’s sentence marked the first conviction of a priest in the Christian majority country of South Sudan. This is a capital offense.
These recent developments have come at a time when Pope Francis is visiting South Sudan in July after repeatedly delaying his trip due to security concerns in the country.
The pope will be in South Sudan July 5-7 after visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo July 2-5 on the same trip.