South Sudan: mission among the displaced and street children  

The friars in South Sudan offer a service of pastoral support to the local people and in many other ways. This is recounted by Br Federico Gandolfi, guardian of the Franciscan friary in Juba since 2015. The foundation of the Friars Minor includes Sudan and South Sudan, and there are four missionaries in service: two in Juba and two in Khartoum”.

In Juba, Br Federico is parish priest of Holy Trinity Parish. Together with another friar, he is also in charge of the pastoral care of an IDP (Internal Displaced People) camp, where 31,000 displaced people live, all belonging to the Nuer tribe, in opposition to the Dinka tribe in the current government. “We have a lot of peace and reconciliation work to do,” continues Br Federico, “of assistance from all points of view. This is the camp that Pope Francis was supposed to visit on his visit to South Sudan, scheduled for next July, but postponed because of his health problems”.

The friars minor involved in the mission are constantly in contact with suffering. “As a priest, they often call me for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick,” explains Br Federico. “I have seen people in all conditions, living skeletons”. The friars receive all kinds of requests for help, including taxi services to reach the hospitals, as people do not have cars to get there. “Our life as Franciscans is very simple, punctuated by moments of common prayer in the fraternity, which we try to hold on to, even if interrupted by the needs that the country places before us and to which we try to respond,” the friar recounts.

The poverty and suffering of the people still result from the economic instability of the country, a consequence of the bloody civil war, which lasted eight years and whose violence has not yet died down completely. “In 2016, I saw the war, the dead,” says Brother Federico. “There is so much tribal hatred that increases yearly. Outside the capital, there are stories of fighting at all levels, for tribal, political, money reasons. Life does not have much value here”.

For security reasons, the friars respect the curfew every day and return home before 6.30 p.m. because it would be dangerous to stay out. During the day, however, they also spend time on the pastoral care of eight villages stretching up to 75 kilometres from the capital. Since 2017, they and a group of volunteers have also been going to the streets in the capital’s most deprived areas to assist street children. “They are young people from 12 up to 20,” explains the friar from Juba. “They live abandoned on the streets, so we bring them medical care, sometimes food, psychological assistance. We spend time with them, we chat a little, and this is good for them”.

Minister General’s visit

From 6 to 10 June, the Minister General, Br Massimo Fusarelli, visited South Sudan to meet the friars working in Juba and Khartoum and bring his support. They were Br. Victor Luís Quematcha, General Definitor for Africa, and Br. Efren Parmenio, director general for Development and Fundraising . Also, with them there were 13 newly temporarily professed friars from this new temporary presence of the Order in Africa, for which there is a need for brothers in service, as the Minister General had pointed out in his appeal for missionary call at the beginning of May. “The Minister came to listen to us friars, to our difficulties, our challenges, but also to the beautiful things we have done, and which have done us good during these years of mission,” says Br Federico. “The Minister also listened to all the temporary professed who came here on holiday since they are still studying in Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania”. Accompanied by Br Peter Tindo, president of the foundation, the Minister General visited the pastoral centre in Juba and the sisters’ new house on 6 June. Institutional meetings included one with the Nuncio and the Vatican Chargé d’Affaires and one at the archbishopric in Juba. The Minister General also visited the Combonian missionaries and shared moments of reflection with the lay people of the parish. On 9 June, Br Massimo made a stop at Kit – Good Shepherd Peace Centre and later at the IDP camp. “South Sudan is a young land, crisscrossed by so much life, suffering and conflict,” commented Br Massimo Fusarelli, “It is still a cry for peace and justice, which only God can make grow in His Spirit.

 

The Minister wanted to give us a life project, a vision of this mission, and we also shared our vision,” said Br Federico. “The Franciscan charism takes us among the displaced, those still living in the war, in the north of the country, those living in miserable conditions due to environmental disasters, in the centre of the country, or with the lepers in another area. But, as friars, we could be anywhere, so we discern with our Minister General”. Br Federico recounts that he was touched by the first mass celebrated by the Minister General in a small church in Juba with a tin roof and mud walls. “It was touching to see the successor of St Francis celebrating mass for our young friars right there in this very remote area, on the periphery of the world”.

 

B.G.