Comboni Missionary presence in South Sudan
Daniel Comboni reached South Sudan on February 14, 1858 at Holy Cross mission on the banks of the White Nile (lat. 7°). For health reasons he left it on January 15, 1859. His first contact with South Sudan was marked by sufferings and the death of his companion, Fr. Oliboni. He and his companions went back to Italy very sick. In his missionary commitment, Comboni always cherished the wish to return to the equatorial regions of Central Africa. This earnest aspiration was not to be fulfilled by him personally, but by his followers as soon as the historical circumstances made it possible.
First missionary presence (1901–1964)
The first missionary station in South Sudan was opened by the Comboni Missionaries in Lul among the Shilluk in 1901. Kayango and Mbili, near Wau, among the Jur were opened in 1904. To these followed many more foundations of missions all over South Sudan and many missionaries worked and established Christian communities.
In January 1, 1956, Sudan became independent from the British-Egyptian rule. But the civil war, called later the Anyanya One, had already begun in 1955. It was caused by unjust and unfair treatment of the Southern population by the Government of Sudan. The rapid expansion of the Church in Southern Sudan received a severe blow in 1964, when all expatriate missionaries working in the Southern regions were expelled from the area. The Anyanya war ended in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement.
Second missionary presence (1971–1994)
The Institute continued to hope firmly sent back missionaries in Southern Sudan. In 1971, a Comboni community was formed in Nzara formed by Sudanese confreres. With the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement (1972), expatriate missionaries could go back to Southern Sudan but at a rather slow rhythm, due to the many difficulties in obtaining entry permits from the Khartoum Government.
In 1979, there were 15 priests and seven brothers working in South Sudan and their number kept increasing year by year. In 1980, the General Council, following the advice of the Khartoum Province, divided the Sudan into two administrative missionary areas, i.e. the Khartoum Province and the South Sudan Region, at first headed by a representative of the Superior General (Fr. Raffaele Cefalo – 1 June 1981) and subsequently by a Delegate (October 15, 1982).
In 1983, the second phase of the war between North and South began with the insurrection of the Bor Garrison led by John Garang and the beginning of the activities of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). In these years, the Delegation increased in personnel and commitments and on March 12, 1985 it was elevated to the status of a province. The elected provincial was Fr. Cesare Mazzolari who was succeeded by Fr. Abel Modi in 1990 when the former was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Rumbek.
The conflict broke the province into two: the communities in territories controlled by the government under the jurisdiction of Fr. Modi, and the communities in territories controlled by the SPLA that did not have contact with the provincial superior. For this reason in 1991 the General Administration decided to appoint Fr. Calligari coordinator of the New Sudan Group that comprised the missionaries working under SPLA held areas. The New Sudan group of Comboni Missionaries consisted of 13 confreres with four communities: Nzara, Loa, Isoke and Yirol.
In 1992 SPLA tried twice to take Juba with the only result to make life more miserable for the poor citizens of Juba. For safety reasons all the expatriate missionaries were asked to leave the town. Some Sudanese confreres remained in Juba up to 1994.
Third missionary presence (1995 – 2017)
By the end of May 1992, an escalation of the conflict forced all the Comboni missionaries, except for the community of Nzara, leaft South Sudan. These confreres met in Nairobi for an assessment. As a result, some were assigned to other provinces, and some remained to take care of the Sudanese refugees in Kakuma (Kenya) and Kocoa (Uganda). By the end of July, there were nine confreres left in the New Sudan Group. Fr. Francesco Chemello was appointed coordinator of the group and the main target was to keep the little flame alive by being close to the people in their suffering wherever was possible. Head-quarters were in Jacaranda House, Nairobi.
On January 1, 1995, the General Administration erected the delegation South Sudan Delegation out of the confreres belonging to the New Sudan Group (16 confreres). Fr. Francesco Chemello was appointed Superior of the Delegation. The General Council took to heart the situation of South Sudan by sending more confreres: the confreres were already 28 by the end of 1996 and became 36 in 2000. On January 1, 1999, Fr Ezio Bettini was appointed Superior of the delegation. During this time, new presences were opened: Agang Rial, Marial Lou and Mapuordit among the Dinka; Nyal and Old Fangak among the Nuer; Narus among the Topossa; and Lomin among the Kuku. In these period the Hospital of Mapuordit was started and the Comprehensive Comboni College in Lomin.
The General Council approved the proposal of the confreres presented during the Intercapitular Assembly of the year 2000 and erected the province of South Sudan Province as from January 1, 2002. Fr. Ezio Bettini appointed the Provincial Superior. On January 9, 2005, in Nairobi (Kenya), the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed the historical Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the Government of Khartoum which brought about the end of the second civil war. This same year, Fr. Luciano Perina started his term in office as provincial superior. Agang Rial was closed to open Yirol, Old Fangak was erected as a community, the community of Nyal moved back to Leer, the mission of Talì was opened, St. Martin workshop established in Lomin and the Catholic Radio Network started its service. In January 2008 the province head-quarters were formally moved back to the Comboni House in Juba.
On January 1, 2011, Fr. Daniele Moschetti took over and led the province up to December 2016. He worked with great energy and gave a crucial contribution to the establishment of a Justice and Peace office in Juba, the building of the centre of Moroyok for the vocation promotion and pre-postulancy, promoted many activities of ongoing formation and workshops characterized by various ministries, ecclesial collaboration in many projects and the institution of the Religious Superior Association of South Sudan with the building of the Good Shepherd Peace Centre. In this period the communities of Wau and Raga came to be part of the province of South Sudan.
On January 1, 2017, Fr. Louis Okot Tony started his ministry as Provincial Superior. At the moment there are 10 communities: the provincial house in Juba, the pre-postulancy in Moroyok (Juba), Lomin (Kajokeji), Talì, Yirol, Mapuordit, Wau, Nyal (Leer), Old Fangak and the presence of two confreres in Mogok (Ayod).