COMBONI MISSION IN SOUTH SUDAN: ‘WE CONTINUE TO WORK AS MISSIONARIES IN EXILE’
Fr. Jesus Aranda is a Comboni missionary working among South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda. Fr. Aranda and other three missionaries were initially based in Kajo-Keji County, South Sudan, under the Catholic Diocese of Yei.
These four Comboni missionaries and the people they evangelise have been forced to leave their parish and mission due to armed conflicts and insecurity in the area early this year.
“We continue to work as missionaries in exile as we accompany the people of our mission in Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, who have become refugees in Uganda”, says Fr. Aranda.
The missionaries are grateful that Uganda has welcomed them as war refugees or ‘missionaries in exile’. This allows them to share in the refugees’ daily struggles and to offer them pastoral support and services in the best way they can.
Fr. Aranda, however, noticed that the Ugandan government and some citizens take advantage of this situation and inflict more suffering on the refugee community, which he classified as “grave injustices done to our people”.
Fr. Jesus Aranda with S. Sudanese refugee children in northern Uganda
According to ReliefWeb, a UN leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters, “refugees continue to report fleeing South Sudan to escape fighting between armed groups, particularly in Kajo Keji and Yei counties. The majority of South Sudanese refugees reside in settlements in northern Uganda, including 272,206 in Bidibidi, Yumbe District; 148,381 in Palorinya, Moyo District; 86,770 in Rhino and 107,330 in Imvepi, both in Arua District, and 23,625 in Palabek, Lamwo District”.
This ‘refugee missionary community’ is made up of two Comboni brothers and two priests. The two brothers, Br. Peter Fafa and Br. Erich Fischnaller, are engaged in human promotion activities, which include the running of a workshop, while the two priests take care of the pastoral work to thousands of refugees.
“We have a pastoral programme which includes the celebration of the Holy mass, follow-up of pastoral groups, preparation for the sacraments and pastoral care for the sick”, added the Fr. Aranda.
Fr. Isaac Martin, an 81 years-old Spanish missionary, is keen to work with the refugee community. Unfortunately he has been sickly and was recently taken to Kampala for further treatment. Fr. Aranda remains alone to offer pastoral assistance to his ‘refugee flock’ of hundreds of thousands of people living in a very challenging situation.
An Inter-Agency weekly emergency update released by ReliefWeb on the South Sudan refugee situation dated of 1-7 June 2017, says that “a total of 6,260 South Sudanese refugees arrived in Uganda in the first week of June 2017, at an average daily rate of 894. The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda now stands at 956,822”.
“Uganda continues to receive new arrivals from South Sudan. Among the mains reasons for this refuge crisis there are fear of indiscriminate killings, looting of property, burning of houses, torture, rape, arrest by armed forces, lack of basic services and hunger”, says the Inter-Agency weekly report.
Despite all the challenges, the four ‘missionaries in exile’ remain faithful to their call to live out the Comboni missionary vocation by making common cause with the poorest and most abandoned people, sharing in their grief, joys and hope and being true witnesses of Jesus Christ amongst South Sudanese refugee communities in northern Uganda.
Fr. J. Aranda, Fr. Isaac Martin amd a group of students of Kajo-Keji mission, S. Sudan