For many years now, our Catholic community in the UN Camp in Malakal, South Sudan, has been a sign of unity for over 42,000 displaced people since the civil war of 2013.
From the very beginning, our camp was composed of various ethnic groups (Shilluck, Nuer and Dinka) who were not getting along with each other. We made a decision that if we were to come together as a Catholic community and then to build a small church for ourselves, it must be inclusive of all the ethnic groups. To be catholic means universal and open to everyone to come together as one family of God united in Christ to promote unity and peace among ourselves and throughout South Sudan.
These were our very humble beginnings, and I have been there ever since. We try to support and help the people by creating a Catholic community through all the activities we offer: youth groups, Legion of Mary, choirs, etc. It is almost like a parish community. We want people to have a sense of hope, so that, even though they are living in plastic or tin sheeted tents in a camp, they still believe that one day they will have a better life. That is our mission, to give them hope. Up to this present moment we continue to be that catholic community trying to be an example to the rest of the camp that we are one family struggling to build a better future with hope for what is yet to be in our lives.
When we gather on Sundays,it is the children who lead us in prayer, singing, “Jesus loves me”(Jesus hebani in Arabic). It is the children who, with their innocence, trusting and joy, are leading us in the way to live together in peace with one another in in South Sudan.
The people who live in the camp have taught me that sometimes you can just celebrate the joy of being together. They may have lost their homes, their lands, their livelihoods, everything, but they have each other. It is the relationships we create as one family of God that gives life and joy in the midst of suffering. It is a grace of God.
Fr. Michael Bassano, MM