The Pope's trip makes the South Sudanese feel as if the world, and the Church, has not forgotten about them, says American missionary
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Father Michael Bassano is a 74-year-old Maryknoll priest serving the Catholic community in the United Nations Protection of Civilians camp in Malakal, north-eastern South Sudan. The American missionary is joining the rest of the country in receiving Pope Francis from February 3 to 5.
Father Bassano is in the capital city of Juba, as he will accompany some people from his camp to the papal trip’s events. He told Aleteia what the atmosphere is like in South Sudan and what he hopes this trip will bring.
If you want to know more about Father Bassano’s life as a priest in the UN camp click here for the full story.
What do you think will be the impact of this trip?
The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of Scotland want the peace process to continue and come to some sort of fulfillment so that the fighting stops in South Sudan. I am sure the Pope will speak strongly to our government leaders to reinvigorate this peace process, which began in 2018, because nothing has really changed and the violence is still ongoing. For example, in the last 6 months there was an increase in fighting, so many people were coming into our camp as they had been displaced by war.
The people hope that this trip will ignite a new fire, a new hope that things can change and improve: That peace can come to the country, so that all the ethnic groups can be united as South Sudanese and not be against each other. I have not lost hope that this can still happen. With God’s help let’s see how it goes.
What has the atmosphere been like in the camp regarding the Pope’s trip?
There is excitement! We prayed last Sunday in the church. Many South Sudanese feel that their country has been forgotten by the world, that no one talks about them in the news. So they are very happy that the Pope cares enough to come and visit. It makes them realize how special they are and that they are not abandoned by the world, but most importantly by the Church!
We are having seven people from our camp going to Juba to participate in the Pope’s visit and the various events, such as the ecumenical prayer on Saturday or the Mass on Sunday. Some people will also participate in the Pope’s meeting with internally displaced people at the Freedom Hall complex on Saturday afternoon. This will be a special moment for our people as he will address his official words and offer support.
What has the local impact been of having a Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian leader traveling together to promote peace?
The trip is stronger with the 3 leaders as they represent the 3 major denominations in South Sudan: the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Presbyterian. This will be a great support and boost for us to continue to work together for peace in an ecumenical spirit here on the ground. We also need to work with our Muslim leaders; for example we have a mosque in our camp as well. They [the organizers] have called the trip a “pilgrimage of peace,” so hopefully it begins a new peace process.
Have you participated in ecumenical or inter-religious initiatives in your camp to promote peace?
We have 22 churches in our camp! The biggest ones are Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian and then we have other ones such as the Seventh-Day Adventist, a Baptist Church, and other smaller pentecostal Churches. There has been a united effort amongst all pastors of these Churches to encourage people to work for peace. We sometimes held peacebuilding workshops together for example.
The women’s group of the South Sudan Council of Churches for example also initiated a monthly women’s prayer for peace in the country some years ago. So in the camp we get together to pray, sometimes we go to Presbyterian Church, sometimes they come to the Catholic one. This is a good initiative to bring different Churches together for peace.
The Church is beginning to come alive again after so many years of conflict! There are seven dioceses in South Sudan and during the civil war, [which lasted from 2013 to 2018, editor’s note], many of them did not have a bishop. This is the first time now in many years that all the dioceses have a bishop!