News, Papal visit in South Sudan

“May Easter give us courage to choose peace and fraternity in South Sudan”


South Sudan is experiencing extreme poverty, but Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek notes how the people bear witness to great solidarity, explaining that “the Pope’s visit has brought countless fruits” and expressing hope that Easter “may free everyone from pessimism and fear.”

The images of Palm Sunday in Rumbek have been seen across the world: the Bishop of the city carrying a child on his shoulders, surrounded by a festive population. Here in the most important town of the Lakes State in South Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, Easter is a path of hope not only for Christians. The Pope visited the African country, torn by violence and poverty, in February of last year, invoking peace, justice, and solidarity. Today, Bishop Christian Carlassare of Rumbek explains, “There is great participation in the Via Crucis that lasts all morning” and sees the presence not only of Christians.

Q: Your Excellency, how does this prayer unfold in Rumbek and how do you approach Easter?

The Via Crucis takes place in the city streets with a large number of people and with young people at each of the stations, representing the characters of the Passion from beginning to end. There is Jesus with the cross and all the other characters leading the procession and at each station, they represent what is happening while readers read the biblical passages. And truly, all people, even non-Christians, participate in this representation with great emotion, so much so that we even see people beating their chests and crying for this story of Jesus that is repeated in the lives of these people. So, it’s a prayer that also has great liberating power because we identify with it and feel how much the suffering of a righteous person can give hope to many others. And then, we will conclude with the Easter Vigil and Mass. The blessing of the fire during the Easter Vigil is very beautiful because we always try to bless the new fire, a fire that has not been prepared beforehand but is lit during the liturgy through the traditional method of rubbing sticks until the spark ignites the new flame. And this is what God is capable of doing for us: where there is night, He brings light, where there is death, He brings new life.

Q: The images of Palm Sunday in Rumbek have touched the hearts of many people: a procession in which you carry a child who is holding a cane on your shoulders…

It was a gesture that arose spontaneously. In Africa, people like to represent and live events, and often on Palm Sunday, a donkey is used in the procession, and the priest on the donkey’s back represents Christ. In Rumbek, however, we don’t have donkeys, so last year we had a simple procession as we are used to in Italy. But never as much as do I now, have I felt like a donkey, called to serve by carrying the burdens as Jesus carried ours, by carrying on my shoulders this Diocese and all the people who are wounded, discarded, or ridiculed. So when the Sister in charge of the sacristy told me that we were missing the donkey, I told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it, I’ll be the donkey.” And so I lifted a child and carried him to the cathedral. No one was surprised by this gesture because here it is done like this; when an important person visits the village – there are no other means – they are lifted on shoulders and carried. That’s what they would have done with Jesus if the entrance to Jerusalem had been here: they would have lifted Him, at least the disciples would have, and carried Him into the city. And so, for the people, it had a very beautiful symbolic value: a young boy carried on shoulders, a symbol of the hope of a renewed community.

Q: In February 2023, the Pope came to South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage. He reaffirmed the faith and spoke of peace and reconciliation. What fruits did this visit bear?

I believe that the fruits of the Pope’s visit were truly countless and were felt especially during the days of his visit and in the months that followed, but they remain impressed today in the hearts of the faithful and much of the population of South Sudan. Those gestures, those actions for which the Pope asked not only for words, remain an open exhortation that requires the commitment of all. Therefore, today I think that the most important fruits of that visit are us, the people of South Sudan, the people of goodwill who have listened to the Pope’s words, who continue to pray for peace, and not only pray but above all cultivate it in their own families and communities, so much to infect the whole country so that peace may be possible, despite everything. This is evident because despite the great injustices that persist, despite many people being displaced, despite the economic crisis in which the poor are becoming even poorer in the sense that the value of the currency is so low that even work is almost worthless, and therefore people struggle to access services, healthcare, education… Yet, despite such poverty, people do not lose heart and do not turn to violence or injustice but try to live and survive mainly based on solidarity with each other. I think that this population, so united and so full of hope, is the one that can, one day, give life to a country not ruined by power, by those who hold power, especially that of weapons, or economic power, but a country born from the solidarity that comes from a humble and simple population.

Q: How is the Church contributing to the reconstruction and reconciliation process in the country?

The Church stands by the people who suffer, instilling courage, and hope: not a vain hope but the certainty that the Lord is present and accompanies us. He who was crushed and crucified has risen and is the source of our resurrection. Therefore, faith is not an accessory but an important gift for the people and for every path of salvation. In addition to preaching and celebrating, the Church adds service, which becomes such an important action to lift up, mobilize, and make people protagonists of a human and social transformation. We’re not just talking about charity towards the poorest, providing essential services, but also about promoting economic activities to make people more autonomous: we also think about small agricultural projects we try to develop in all our parishes. Forming people in the civic sense, justice, peace; and let’s not forget education in Catholic schools, where we cultivate integral human formation by valuing every child or young person who is in our institutions. This is so important in a situation where the young person often feels sidelined and perhaps manipulated by the interest of a few, that they may find the possibility to express all their richness and dreams for the future and try to achieve them.

Q: The country is rich in oil and yet it is among the poorest in the world. What steps need to be taken to consolidate peace and give the people what belongs to them?

It is not guaranteed that where there are resources there is also wealth. Unfortunately, most of the time people suffer more from poverty due to the unfair distribution of wealth. South Sudan is not poor because it lacks wealth, but because it lacks peace. The war in Sudan, moreover, has exacerbated the economic crisis because the government of South Sudan relied almost solely on the exploitation of oil: now the pipeline passing through Sudan is partly damaged and the Sudanese government is unable to guarantee those payments to South Sudan that had been agreed upon in the past. So the local currency loses value every day compared to the dollar, the cost of living is very high, and there is no adjustment of wages in a country where work is lacking anyway, and where there is the possibility of work it seems useless because one does not earn enough to live. And so people find themselves living hand to mouth, taking advantage of those resources that can be found. To consolidate peace – it seems paradoxical – peace is needed; fighting crime and corruption – which is a form of crime – and supporting entrepreneurship and the construction of an economy that is sustainable starting from small economic activities: from agriculture, farming, fishing… Not only the exploitation of resources that are used and consumed but also work that generates other types of resources through the enterprise itself.

Q: What is your prayer, your wish for this Easter in South Sudan?

My wish for Easter: May it be an encounter with the Risen Christ, may free us from pessimism and fear, may give us the courage to choose peace and fraternity. Happy Easter!

Credits to: VATICAN NEWS

Date Published:

2 April 2024


Alice, officer


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Latest news, South Sudan, Solidarity, Easter, Peace, Hope, Bishop Carlassare, Pope visit in South Sudan, Palm Sunday

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