Monday, June 5, 2023
Bishop Macram Max Gassis, the first Catholic Bishop of El Obeid Diocese in Sudan, has passed on in the U.S. after suffering poor health “for many months”. He was aged 84. The member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) died on Sunday, June 4, MCCJ Superior General, Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse Gebresilasie announced in a statement that indicates that the late Bishop died in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
In a statement shared with ACI Africa, the author of the book “An Angry Shepherd”, which details the experiences Bishop Macram as a Catholic leader who risked his life for the love of the people of God said there were “no real details yet”, apart from the fact that the late Sudanese Bishop was “found dead in the bathroom”.
“He was staying with his beloved nephew's family. His health had been poor for many months,” John Ashworth says in the Monday, June 5 statement, and recalls the late Catholic Bishop as “a great man, a personal friend and mentor to me for almost forty years, a fighter for justice, peace and human rights, who will be sadly missed but whose legacy will live on.”
The Bishop of South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese, Bishop Christian Carlassare, has eulogized Bishop Macram, his confrere, as “an outstanding witness of Christ together with the suffering Christians, especially those more marginalized of the Sudan.”
In a note to ACI Africa hours after learning of Bishop Macram’s death, Bishop Carlassare recalled the sharing he had with his late confrere at the Nairobi Hospital in 2021 where he was nursing gunshot injuries. “My most fond memory of him is about his several visits to Nairobi hospital spending time with me while in treatment offering me words of consolation and faith,” the Comboni Missionary Bishop recalls.
Born in September 1938 in Khartoum, Bishop Macram was ordained a Priest in June 1964 in Rome, Italy. He returned to his home Diocese of El Obeid in 1965, and served as assistant Parish Priest in Wad Medani, expanding the work of the church and establishing new Parishes throughout the region.
The late Catholic Church leader who earned a degree in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America also served as a Chaplain at the University of Khartoum. He was at the helm of El Obeid Diocese first as Apostolic Administrator following his appointment in October 1983, and after as the Local Ordinary, after his Episcopal Consecration in May 1988.
The former Nobel Peace Prize nominee testified before the U.S. Congress in 1988 about the human rights abuses committed by the Sudanese government against the innocent people of his country, including enslavement, air raids, forced starvation, and rape at the hands of the government's army. Two years into his Episcopal Ministry, Bishop Macram who had won the hearts of many for speaking out against human rights abuses paid the huge price of being exiled from his country when he faced a major threat on his life.
Details of how the Sudanese Bishop fought enslavement, religious persecution, forced starvation and mass murders in the country that also experienced many years of civil war are found in the 2021 publication, “An Angry Shepherd”. Authored by Mr. Ashworth, a lay missionary from England who worked with Bishop Macram for almost four decades, the book that the Nairobi-based Paulines Publications Africa published explores the experiences of an African Catholic Bishop who knew all manner of suffering and who put his life on the line on countless occasions for the love of his people.
Even in exile, he continued to reach out to the vulnerable groups in the Northeast African nation, helping them both materially and spiritually. In March 2022, Bishop Macram expressed concern about inter-communal violence in the Abyei Administrative Area (AAA) in the Northeastern African country along the border with South Sudan. The founder of Bishop Gassis Relief & Rescue Foundation called on the warring parties to “seek a nonviolent resolution to their conflict through dialogue.”
In December 2021, the predecessor of Bishop Yunan Tombe Trille Kuku, the current Local Ordinary of El Obeid, decried the persistent instability in Sudan, saying, “people are suffering in violence and poverty”. On social media, Bishop Macram is being eulogized as a fallen hero. “Our hero has fallen, may your humble soul rest in peace dear Bishop Macram Max Gassis till we meet again in heaven,” Okeny Paul says on Facebook.
On his part, Makuc Francis Atem says, “It shocked me that Bishop Macram Max Gassis has passed away. Dear Bishop, you saved a lot of lives, in particular both South and North Sudan, may your soul rest in peace”. “He gave us the chance to be Catholic Church Christians, he built a better Hospital in my Hometown, he built countless schools in my hometown,” Mayomsson Deng Sr. says. Deng Sr. adds in reference to Bishop Macram, “He brought Kenyan teachers so that those who couldn't afford to study in Kenya would get the opportunity to enjoy that service in their Home villages. We're where we are today because of this man.”