29 March 2017 – Fr. Jesus Aranda is a Comboni missionary who has been evangelising in South Sudan. His mission in Kajo-Keji has been heavily affected by the current crisis and conflicts. The entire population has moved away in a massive exodus to refugee camps in Uganda. Fr. Aranda and the other missionaries have left the area too to stay closer to their people in Uganda. He writes from the mission and explains how “hard and painful” it is for the missionaries not to be able to return to their mission and to become refugees.

“To live as a refugee is a new experience that we are living as a community of missionaries. We have left our mission in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, on 6th February to process our papers in Kampala, Uganda, so as to be allowed to do our apostolate with the people from our parish (Sacred Heart Parish in Lomin, Kajo-Keji) that now live in the refugee camps in northern Uganda. This was our plan.

However, the situation has changed suddenly and dramatically and things have taken another direction. In a matter of days our mission area has become a battle field and we were no longer able to return to our residence and mission in Kajo-Keji. It has been hard and painful for us not to be able to return to our mission and left with no option but to join the community of refugees. That is our situation at the moment and also the fate of hundreds of thousands of people.

Since we left our community in Kajo-Keji, about and month and a half ago, we have been moving around in Uganda in various Comboni communities and guest houses because we have nowhere to stay as a community. We have also become displaced and refugees. Our intention is to rent a house near the refugee camps as soon as we get our documents allowing us to stay in Uganda.

The two Comboni brothers of our community took the risk to go back to the mission in Kajo-Keji together with some workers earlier this month. What they found was heartbreaking. Lots of destructions and deserted places. Our residence has been looted. The doors of our bedrooms have been broken and valuable things taken away. Whatever was not taken was thrown around on the floor. The chalice used for the celebration of the Holy Mass was found on the floor of the chapel.

While we have been waiting for our documents to stay in Uganda we have been trying to do some work. We have been to the refugee camps and planned some pastoral activities and celebrated the Eucharist and other sacraments with the refugee communities. We have got an intense pastoral programme in place for the Holy Week and Easter. How will people respond? We do not know. But we have had a good number of faithful in the celebrations we have held so far.

We shall write to you again after Easter. Happy Easter to all of you. May the Risen Lord be in your hearts and with your families. We have limited access to internet around here, so do not worry if we do not send you updates. We feel happy whenever we get the chance to read your messages. Do not forget that you are also part of this mission. So, remember to pray for us and to support our people”.

Fr. Jesus Aranda, mccj

Also, a Kajo-Keji resident who now lives outside the country wrote to say that his family is fine in the refugee camps and to explain how dramatic and hard it was for them to leave their homes. He remains hopeful, however, and prays that peace may prevail in South Sudan.

“I am fine at the moment where I have been, although disturbed by what is going on in South Sudan, especially Kajo-Keji. It is sad but what to do? The only solution is through prayers that our people will be changed by the Holy Spirit so that they will act in human manner. We need justice before peace comes in the country.

I have been in touch with S. K., my elder brother. He managed to move with my sisters, brothers, his wife and my mother to the refugee camp in Morobi 4, about a month ago. It took him a long time up to now to settle down and put some few things in order for the family in the refugee camp.

My younger brother was cut off from the rest of the family since the time of the exodus in January. He was on holiday in Gulu with my uncle and luck enough my uncle has put him in Senior 2 in Gulu Secondary School. My sister D. D. managed to get to Arua Makerere University branch trying to finish her last semester which goes until June. Meanwhile, my other sister Susan was cut off in Juba. I heard she is doing fine too.

My father didn’t go with my family to the refugee camp. He remained behind within Kajo-Keji since the time of the exodus but near to the Ugandan border, not far from the Nile. His life had been at risk with many other people who had been together hiding from both the rebels and the government forces.

Other Kajo-Keji residents remained behind due to issues of cattle; others due to the bitterness of what they were leaving behind, but I managed to talk to my father and convinced him to leave the place for safety. Today my elder brother called me from Juba and confirmed that my father had arrived safely at the refugee camp to join his family in Uganda. My elder brother managed to reach Juba through Nimule road by the guidance of God as he described it to me.

I will continue to be in unity with you in South Sudan at this moment through prayers, to pray for peace in the country and for the innocent people who are suffering both in the country and in the refugee camps, that through the intercession of St. Daniel Comboni who always fought for the rights of the people of God, and St. Bakhita who always acted whole heartedly in a human way… that lasting peace may come to South Sudan one day”.

K. J. K.

Photo: Fr J. Aranda and S. Sudanese refugees in Uganda