Friday, October 13, 2023
Members of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) have not abandoned their pastoral ministry in South Sudan’s Catholic Diocese of Yei despite the security challenges, the Fr. Gregor Schmidt, Provincial Superior [in the picture], has told ACI Africa in an interview. [ACI Africa]

In the Wednesday, September 6 interview, Fr. Gregor Schmidt weighed in on the claim that missionaries had fled the South Sudanese Diocese for “fear for their lives”, which the Local Ordinary had made in an earlier interview with ACI Africa. In the September 1 interview, Bishop Alex Lodiong Sakor had lamented, “We are very few; the Clergy are very few. The missionaries who were working with us are no longer there because they fear for their lives; some of them went and joined the refugees in Uganda; some returned to their headquarters.”

According to Fr. Schmidt, Comboni missionaries have continued their pastoral ministry at Sacred Heart Lomin Parish of Yei Diocese. “We did not leave the Diocese and the Parish; we pray there in Lomin, Kajo-keji every Sunday,” the MCCJ Provincial Superior in South Sudan said, adding that three Comboni Priests regularly visit the Parish premises, where their residence was “partly destroyed”.

“There is a roof but the doors need repairs,” Fr. Schmidt said about the residence of MCCJ members at Sacred Heart Lomin Parish. At the partly destroyed residence, he went on to say, “We constantly have one missionary Priest sleeping there in Lomin in rotation. Those three Priests all visit Lomin according to their pastoral plans.”

“We are present in Lomin and we organize pastoral work with the catechists and choir,” the German-born Comboni missionary emphasized during the September 6 interview with ACI Africa at the MCCJ Provincial House in Juba. Apart from the Sacred Heart Lomin Parish, Fr. Schmidt said Comboni missionaries also run a technical facility, which offers a variety of skills, including carpentry, welding, and weaving. 

MCCJ members in Yei Diocese also run a primary school, the MCCJ Provincial Superior in South Sudan said. “We have nine Comboni Communities, eight within South Sudan and one refugee community that had to flee the conflict in 2017 to Moyo Palorinya refugee settlement in Uganda where we bought land and rebuilt the workshop that was active in Lomin,” Fr. Schmidt who has ministered in South Sudan since 2009 told ACI Africa. He added, “With the security that returns to Yei Diocese, the visits of the Priests who live or who returned to South Sudan continue.”

“People need security and peace; there is work to be done by those in power in South Sudan to ensure in any of the 10 States in South Sudan, people can live in security, peace, and reconcile,” Fr. Schmidt further said. He also shared about the situation of the South Sudanese, who fled the violence in Yei that started in 2016, their day to day activities, future aspirations, and the ministry of MCCJ members among them.

"The vast majority of South Sudanese continue living in the camps in Uganda, including the Catholics from Sacred Heart Lomin Parish, because they do not trust the situation yet. They wait to see the results of the planned elections,” Fr. Schmidt said in reference to the planned 2024 presidential elections. He added about South Sudanese at the Palorinya refugee settlement, “Although they live in the camps, several plough their fields in South Sudan and move across the border for planting and harvest.”

“Because the majority of Catholics are still found in Uganda, also the pastoral work among our parishioners happens mainly there where missionaries find the people," the MCCJ Provincial Superior in South Sudan told ACI Africa during the September 6 interview.

[Kerbino Kuel DengACI Africa]