New Mission in South Sudan
Sr. Emelda Ukaumunna writes from Eldoret, Kenya about an exploratory visit to the Republic of South Sudan.
"On 12 February 2011, I received a call from Sr. Kay Lawlor, Area Leader for East and Central Africa, asking me for a 'favour'. Would I travel to South Sudan with her in response to last year's Extended Leadership Meeting request. She had been asked to go to South Sudan to investigate the possibility of MMM responding to a request by the Catholic Bishop of Wau. Even as we set out on the journey, I had one question in mind: With our shortage of personnel in MMM, how possible is it to start a new mission in South Sudan?
"I was fully prepared, I thought, in relation to the change of weather from Eldoret, Kenya to Juba, South Sudan. Juba is a Nile River city and is now the new nation's capital. It was very hot! We arrived in Juba safely on 10 March and were warmly welcomed by a Comboni Brother who took us to the Comboni House. As in many other situations in our lives, man or women proposes and God makes a little change. We had hoped to fly to Wau the same day we arrived. Instead we spent two days there before leaving for Wau on 12 March.
"At Wau Airport, Sr. Maria, a Comboni Sister, met us and took us to the Bishop's house where we made an appointment for the afternoon. She then took us to the SSS (Solidarity with Southern Sudan) Community where we received wonderful hospitality till the day we left for Nairobi. The SSS Community is part of the UISG's response to the pleas of the Bishops of South Sudan for help. It is made up of six Sisters from four different congregations: two Sisters of the Holy Spirit, one Daughter of the Heart of Mary, one Franciscan Missionary of Mary, and two Comboni Sisters. Together, they are running the Catholic Institute of Medical Training in the Diocese of Wau. Its main objective is to train registered nurses, who are badly needed."
Meeting with the Bishop
"We had a short meeting with Bishop Rudolf Deng Maja later in the evening. The Bishop gave us a brief history of his Diocese. The Diocese of Wau, with an area of 160,000 square kilometres, covers three states: Warrap, Awalle and Western Bahr-El Ghazal. 'It is the Cradle of Christianity in South Sudan,' he said. Wau has several religious groups and Catholics are the majority. It all started in 1904 when ten Comboni Missionaries left Khartoum for Wau. For forty years before the onset of the civil war, the Catholic Church in Wau was known for having the best education. Things turned around in 1958 when Gen. Ibrahim Abboul, in his bid to promote Islam, nationalized Catholic and other faith-based schools. All missionaries were expelled in 1964. During the two Civil Wars (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) the Army took over most of the Diocesan buildings, including the hospital. The actual return of Catholic Church property in Wau was after the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The Diocese is not taking back secondary schools because of lack of teachers. The Wau Diocese now provides a healthcare service through Daniel Comboni Hospital, which is managed by five Sisters: three Combonis and two Franciscan Missionaries Sisters for Africa. There is also St. Joseph's Clinic and Jebel Kheir Health Clinic."
"On our second day in Wau we visited Eastern Bank in the company of the Vicar General, Fr. Germano Bernardo Bakau, and Fr. Majek Dongrin from nearby Holy Parish Parish in Nazareth. Eastern Bank is east of the river connecting Wau with other parts of the country. It is an outstation of Holy Family and has a population of about 25,000, mainly squatters and war returnees. At Eastern Bank we were shown a large piece of land allocated to the Catholic Diocese of Wau. It is hoped that a parish will be located there, including a Sisters' house, school, and health facilities."
"Our third journey within Wau Diocese took us to St. Joseph's Parish in Kuajok and one of its big outstations, Christ the King, in Gogrial. St. Joseph's Parish has fifty-one outstations with a population of about 7,000. There is an old Sisters' house and clinic, which were deserted due to the civil war and violence. At Gogrial we found a hive of activities, including the building of a ten-bedroom house for Sisters. The Parish Priest, Father Paul, and his assistant were very enthusiastic, putting so much emphasis on the self-contained rooms that the phrase 'self-contained' automatically brought a lot of laughter whenever it was used. Fr. Paul now has a new name: 'Paul Self-Contained'! Apart from the Sisters' house, there was also renovation of the Church, accommodation for the parish priests, and a new clinic, all under construction. It showed us that there was hope and confidence that the future was certainly going to be better."
"Our next visit was to St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Bussere, where we met the Parish Priest, Fr. Richard Batista Ingliza. Bussere is about twelve miles from Wau town and has a population of 3,500. Bussere can be described as a location for education. Before the civil war broke out in 1985 there was a major seminary in Bussere run by the Episcopal Conference of Sudan. There were also primary and secondary schools, a dispensary and the first printing press in South Sudan! At present all the buildings except the church and parish house are totally unusable, but there is hope that the Episcopal Conference will choose Bussere and Wau Diocese as the location of the major seminary after Independence on 9 July."
"At the Catholic Hospital in Wau town, we met a team of five sisters: three Combonis and two Franciscan Missionaries Sisters for Africa. This hospital was taken by the government and returned to the Church in Wau after 50 years. Dr. Barry, a volunteer who came out one month ago to investigate the possibility of joining Solidarity for Southern Sudan, works with the Sisters. He hopes his wife, who is a nurse, will soon join him. We also met Alice, working with Volunteer Services Overseas, who was visiting and researching possibilities for VSO.
"To round up our visits we went to St. Mary Help of Christians Church. This parish is run by Fr. Germano Bernado, the Vicar General, who accompanied us on all our journeys in South Sudan. St. Mary's, built in 1954, is the Cathedral parish and has eight centres or outstations. The thrust of the parish is to be self-reliant in supporting its members. This was evident in the women's group we met. In addition to coming together for prayer and recollection days, they prepare and sell tablecloths and some gift items to generate income.
"Visiting South Sudan was a challenging and inspiring experience for me! Looking around and seeing the realities I felt as if I were given a mirror to look into. For me, this mirror reflects what the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war in the early 1970s was for us Nigerians. It also brought back the stories of our MMM beginnings. As I looked at what is being done by the six sisters in the SSS Community, I saw the nurse training schools started by our MMM Sisters in Anua and Afikpo during our MMM early days. In Alice from Volunteer Service Overseas and Dr. Barry, I saw all our MMM co-workers: Miss Powell, Miss Darcy, and Dr. Dunleavy at Anua; Caroline McNelis and Anne O'Shea, who contributed to Mile Four Hospital, Abakaliki; Dr. Tim Redmond who worked in Afikpo; Miss Mary Bradley, who was a nurse tutor in Afikpo; Dr. Marie Hay in Urua Akpan; Anne Flynn in Accounts in Ndubia Hospital; and Drs. James Geraghty and Ann Phelan in Obudu.
"It was also striking for us that the Bishop, the Sisters running the Catholic Hospital, the SSS Community, and the priests we met at the different places, were all singing the same song as we in MMM: shortage of personnel!! For me it brought home the reality that we are not alone in our cry: shortage of personnel. On leaving Sudan on 16 March, I had one question:
How can we, as MMMs, make a contribution?"