Thursday, March 24, 2022
It was an emotional Wednesday mid-morning characterized with dance and jubilation at Rumbek Airstrip in South Sudan’s Lakes State as members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, the Laity, State officials, and members of the public received the Bishop-elect for the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek, Mons. Christian Carlassare. [In the picture: Mons. Carlassare addresses a congregation at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese. Credit: Courtesy Photo]
“Today Bishop Christian Carlassare is among us. This is a wonderful day and we praise God. Together we will work for peace, stability and unity among our people,” the Governor of Lakes State, General Rin Tueny Mabor, told journalists at Rumbek Airstrip Wednesday, March 23. Speaking on behalf of the residents of Lakes State, the Governor said he welcomed Mons. Carlassare alongside his parents adding, “I recognize they are among us here.”
“Today is a great day. After we lost our beloved Bishop Caesar Mazzolari, the entire membership of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek waited for 10 years and some months to have their Bishop,” Governor Tueny told journalists. He continued, “We are happy. The entire membership of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek is very Happy to welcome you home.”
Mons. Carlassare was appointed Bishop of Rumbek Diocese on 8 March 2021. The Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries (MCCJ) had been serving in South Sudan’s Malakal Diocese since his arrival in the country in 2005. He traveled to Rumbek Diocese on 15 April 2021 following days of spiritual retreat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
In the early hours of 26 April 2021, the Bishop-elect was attacked and shot in both legs. After receiving initial treatment from Doctors with Africa CUAMM in Rumbek, he was airlifted to Nairobi for specialized treatment and later relocated to his native country of Italy days after he had been discharged from the Nairobi Hospital in Kenya. Last October, the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, announced the postponement of the Episcopal Ordination of the Mons. Carlassare “to 2022, at a date still to be determined.”
Mons. Carlassare returned to South Sudan last Friday, March 18. His Episcopal Ordination that had initially been scheduled for Pentecost Sunday, 23 May 2021 has been set for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25.
Addressing journalists at Rumbek Airstrip March 23, expressed his gratitude to the civil authorities of Lakes State and the people of God in the Diocese of Rumbek for their warm reception. “I am grateful to the governor and to all the authorities of this State and also this country because you have been standing by us as Church and helping us as you are working for peace in this country and in this territory,” Mons. Carlassare said. He added in reference to the peace process in South Sudan, “We are united in this work because it is a gift that comes from God and it is a commitment that we have to take all of us together.”
Mons. Carlassare went on to express his gratitude to “all the people of the Church, Catholics and also people of other denominations, because the message of the gospel and Jesus is uniting us to be what God created us to be, brothers and sisters; and as Church we will always proclaim that and work for the dignity of every person.”
“The reception you have given me has given a lot of pride to all people of Lake State, this area that is under the Diocese of Rumbek,” the Bishop-elect said, adding that the warm reception “also gives honor to all the country and this will be seen all over the world and the world will see that South Sudanese are people that desire and work for peace.”
“I come to be brother of each one of us, no one is excluded. I thank you for adopting me in this country and this place,” he further said at Rumbek Airstrip March 23. In his address to a congregation at Holy Family Cathedral of Rumbek Diocese, Mons. Carlassare expressed gratitude to the faithful for their support saying, “You are my strength; you have been my strength and am back here because of you.”
“You are my strength because God is our strength; we are Christians and this is the Church,” he said, and added, “Here we are all brothers and sisters; here we correct each other; here we forgive each other; here we are united around Jesus.”
The member of the Comboni Missionaries continued, “I’m not back because of the chair; I’m back to work with you on these streets. We will not stay only inside the Cathedral; we will go to our land to meet people where they are even in the villages where people are far.”
“There is no black, red, white; we are equal. In the Church there is no discrimination between men and women; we are brothers and sisters and we work together. In the Church there is no rich and poor; we are one in Christ,” Mons. Carlassare emphasized in his speech at Holy Family Cathedral March 23. To consolidate the planning of the March 25 Episcopal Ordination of Mons. Carlassare, the staff of various Diocesan departments have been given a weeklong “break from work”.
“This week, as you are aware, we are all involved in the preparations for the ordination of Msgr. Christian Carlassare, Bishop-elect of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek. It is going to be an exciting day of thanksgiving for the gift of a Bishop,” the Vicar general of Rumbek Diocese, Fr. Andrea Osman Okello, says in a letter message dated March 22. Fr. Okello adds, “All staffs of Departments, Parishes, and Institutions of DOR are hereby informed to break from work from Tuesday, 22 March to Monday, 28 March. Work resumes on Tuesday, 29 March, 2022.”
“Exceptions are the Catholic University and PHCC who will continue to serve the people during this time,” the member of the Clergy of Rumbek Diocese adds in his letter obtained by ACI Africa. The Diocese has been vacant since 16 July 2011 following the death of Bishop Mazzolari, an Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries. His confrere and compatriot, Fr. Fernando Colombo, governed the South Sudanese Diocese as Diocesan Administrator until 27 December 2013, when Fernando Cardinal Filoni, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, appointed Fr. John Mathiang Diocesan Coordinator.
Following Mons. Carlassare’s attack and hospitalization, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Matthew Remijio of South Sudan’s Wau Diocese as Apostolic Administrator of Rumbek on 5 May 2021. The appointment of Bishop Remijio as Apostolic Administrator officially ended the leadership of Fr. Mathiang, one of the suspects in the case of the shooting of Bishop-elect Carlassare.
In his March 23 address to the faithful at Holy Family Cathedral, Mons. Carlassare paid tribute to his predecessor saying, “Allow me to remember our late Bishop Mazzolari. He is our father; he is the father of the Church in Rumbek Diocese. Let us walk in the same path that he traced for this Diocese.”
The 44-year-old Bishop-elect also remembered all the people who “worked in this Diocese before us. Many Priests, many Sisters and Religious; we all know their legacies.”
Addressing himself to the youth of the South Sudanese Catholic Diocese, Mons. Carlassare said, “You are our pillar. Without you we cannot build the Church. Be strong in your faith.”
[Jude Atemanke – ACI Africa]