Christ at the center and the relaunch of Evangelization
in the declarations of the new Bishop of Rumbek
Rumbek (Agenzia Fides) - "I was working as Vicar General in the diocese of Malakal and I was - and am - very satisfied with my vocation and with my life as a missionary. I believe that the Pope chose me because there was a need for a young, energetic presence to follow in the footsteps of Cesare Mazzolari - first Bishop of Rumbek, who died in 2011, the seat had been vacant since then (Editor's note). He was a Bishop much loved by the people and the faithful of the diocese asked for someone who would be in continuity, oriented towards pastoral care. My predecessor was Comboni like me and I hope to embark on this path through a human and humanitarian response". This is how His Exc. Mgr Christian Carlassare, the new Bishop of Rimbek, the youngest Italian Bishop at the service of the Church. In South Sudan for 16 years, he left Malakal, in the Upper Nile State, and immersed himself in a new reality, that of the Lakes State. His story of passion for South Sudan, therefore, continues and deepens in the wake of the Church's proximity to the youngest country in the world, created in 2011.
"I believe that it is necessary to take a step forward in matters of catechetical formation and evangelization. My predecessor had started a catechetical center but it was at a very difficult time, before independence. The time has come to relaunch pastoral action and direct evangelization. 1.8 million people live in Rumbek, including 200,000 Catholics and 800,000 Protestants. The Catholic Church, in any case, is seen by all the faithful, including other religions, with great respect, both for the tradition of proximity to the people in the social and health fields - as well as for the promotion of peace - and for what Pope Francis is doing with his constant interest in the country. For us, it will be fundamental to put Christ at the center and to foster the experience of Christ. It is possible to have many people in church but to perceive a limited experience of the presence of Jesus".
Bishop Carlassare's young age is in line with the needs of a very young people of the faithful and a population under 18, representing more than 50% of the total. The new generations are now approaching the Christian faith with great intensity.
"Here, Christians represent 60% of the population, then there are 8% Muslims, and the rest animists and more precisely followers of the Nilotic religions. What I propose to do during the first moments of my new mission is to set up diocesan structures that promote the ministerial character in order to provide the country with an ever more collaborative Church, capable of valuing what each can offer.
Then, it will be necessary to focus on the formation of catechists and of those who take care of the liturgy. The Church must be founded on the contribution of the laity, especially given the low number of ordained ministers. We can also count on small Christian communities made up of lay people who, however, have difficulties in growing, not by incapacity but because of the continuation of the conflict".
War remains the main problem in South Sudan. Despite the 2018 peace agreement and the attempt at a government of national unity inaugurated in November 2019 - which hold together but remain extremely fragile - the conflict which has plagued the country since 2013, two years after the proclamation of independence, remains. The more than 400,000 dead and the millions of evacuees and refugees represent still bloody wounds and explain the difficulty of a revival in the framework of which national reconciliation would dominate the scene.
"The entire population says they are traumatized and fear is visible on a daily basis. It is very difficult to imagine a long term program. In this sense, the Church plays a fundamental role and although it is clear that we are still far from a state of definitive peace, we observe the latest developments with hope. Since the famous kiss given by the Pope to the feet of politicians invited to the Vatican for a spiritual Easter retreat exactly two years ago, much has changed and it is undoubtedly that the faction leaders have deeply felt the responsibility of overcoming the divisions. We see that there is a commitment in the political field but many problems persist: if at the national level, all speak of peace, at the local level, the small communities remain very wounded by 8 years of conflict. In the Upper Nile, for example, there is the serious problem of land which unleashes tribal clashes over the borders but it is unthinkable, as some ask, to divide the territory tribe by tribe. The Church goes beyond the tribes and is present among all groups, but the choices are dictated more by the economy than by values. The exploitation of oil is one of the most catastrophic elements".
In addition to the well-known gesture of the Pope, who does not lose an opportunity to speak and invoke reconciliation in South Sudan, the Church promotes a capillary action to promote peace: "There are Justice and Peace offices in the dioceses which meet with local communities and seek to find solutions to divisions through an evangelical approach. The operators also collect information on what is happening, on the injustices perpetrated and, in addition to trying to put an end to them, they also report them to the government as reflection. For us, it is essential to include people with a Christian background within the realities that deal with the administration of justice.
Then there is a strong commitment at the national level thanks to the Ecumenical Council of Churches, which is also very active in the processes of treating trauma. There are many concrete examples of the way in which the Church acts on the territory in order to promote peace, for example the Malakal peace initiative, organized by ecclesial groups in order to promote dialogue between the Scilluk and Denka ethnic groups. Some projects have had incredible success, successfully bringing together people who had never met before. The Bishop Emeritus, His Exc. Bishop Paride Taban then promoted the Kuron peace village, a village where people from different tribes live and work together peacefully. There are also all these situations in which schools run by religious welcome young people from all over the country within the framework of a harmonious coexistence, beyond the different tribal affiliations".
The new adventure of a young Bishop begins among a young people, with an important mission, starting with the acquisition of the confidence of his new people. "I was amazed at the many congratulatory messages from so many people, especially young people. First, I will listen to pastoral agents, diocesan priests, catechists and then I will have to immerse myself in order to identify myself with this people", he concludes.