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8-SUDAN

Hope amid hard times in South Sudan

A Jesuit priest well known to members of a Dundee congregation is doing great work, writes STEVE LAVERY

THE parish of St Peter and St Paul’s in Dundee recently gathered for a Holy Hour of prayer with benediction, led by Deacon Charles Hendry, asking the Lord to keep Fr Beatus Mauki SJ safe as he serves the young people of Wau in South Sudan.

Fr Beatus was a much loved figure in the parish while he was studying at Heriot Watt University and later at the University of Abertay. The parishioners took the Tanzanian Jesuit to their hearts and were saddened to hear that his order had other plans for the priest.

As a trained psychologist and counsellor, he was seen as ideal to run the secondary school in Wau, where the pupils had known nothing but war and strife. Many had been child soldiers.

Once Fr Beatus was settled in his new post he saw just how bad things were and how the lack of resources was hindering the students’ development. Heeding the call of the Holy Father to show mercy in practical ways during the jubilee year, the parish adopted Loyola Secondary School and promised to raise funds so that the Jesuit community could furnish the students with the resources—educational, medical and social—that they needed.

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, voted to break away from Sudan in 2011. This was a moment of hope for the people of this oil-rich country and the government in the capital Juba just wanted to get the oil flowing again. There were some minor rebellions and, in a country where wealth is still measured by the size of your herd, some cattle feuds. All this happened far from the capital and had no major effect.

In December 2013 a power struggle broke out between President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, and Vice-President Riek Macher, of Nuer ethnicity. Kiir accused Macher of attempting a coup and fighting broke out between the factions. Since then 300,000 people have died and more than a million have been displaced as a result of fighting with serious ethnic undertones.

In August 2015 a ‘compromise peace agreement’ was signed by both sides,  overseen by the United Nations.

It was into this environment that Fr Beatus went following the missionary ideals of his order. It was peaceful enough at the beginning but since late 2015 there has been renewed tension. The town of Wau was a rebel stronghold and sporadic fighting occurred when the government troops moved in.

Earlier this year one parishioner from St Peter and St Paul’s called Fr Beatus and heard gunfire in the background while Fr Beatus spoke in a hushed voice from his hiding place.

In June, in an email to Mgr Ken McCaffrey, parish priest of St Peter and St Paul’s, Fr Beatus said: “The renewed clashes in South Sudan have caused many people to flee their homes. The tension stems from the incidence when ‘rebels’ killed government soldiers. This situation exploded and government forces declared a state of emergency in Wau town. I had to seek refuge in the Comboni Fathers’ residence.”

He went on to describe what it was like for the community he serves: “It was reported that many civilians were killed during the fighting. The area around Loyola Secondary School was completely destroyed by the government forces. Our life was at risk in the community. We could not go out, locked ourselves in the rooms. The government forces entered into the school compounds trying to surround the rebels. UN forces were not allowed to come to our place.”

 

He ended with a plea: “Please pray for me. I highly need your prayers.”

The Church in South Sudan was quick to condemn the violence and the South Sudanese government’s role in it. The Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Malakal, who hails from Wau, Fr Rocco Taban, in a speech in St Joseph’s church in the capital Juba, did not hold back, saying: “More than 100,000 people are in the bush being displaced by their own government. This is the country we have chosen. This is the country we voted for—its independence—so that our country displaces us. Our own country. We are ruled by monkeys.”

Latest reports from Loyola Secondary were not promising and Fr Beatus’s mission has taken a new path.

If the children cannot come to school, the school has to go to them. Fr Beatus describes how he visits his students in the camps set up for displaced persons: “I visited our students who are displaced in the UN camps and Red Cross and was privileged to hear their sad stories. I still remember a year one student narrating a story to me as follows: ‘Sometimes I dream that I died with those who were killed. I wake up sweating and trembling… I think about how I survived. Why did these others die? It makes me feel bad.’”

It is hard to imagine what it must be like to visit young people hearing such stories repeated over and over. We see the priest in action; the priest reaching out with the love of Christ; the priest being Christ, the servant king, while at the same time recognising the suffering Jesus in the anguish of these young men and women.

In his most recent email Fr Beatus says he is ‘doing my best, working hard to improve the life of our students here’.

“Most of our students fled in multiple directions, to nearby villages and across the border to Sudan. I have lost about 400 students and nobody can trace them. It is a hard reality. Most of our teachers have gone to other countries. It proves difficult to run the school without enough teachers and having lots of students wounded psychologically. Some students have lost parents, relatives and guardians and have fears about personal safety at school, or on the way to and from the school.

“South Sudan can break one’s heart. I am tempted to throw up my hands and think there will never be peace in a region that has known war for so long. I am frustrated, heartbroken. However, this is not time to give up. We know there are some dangers but we are not going to be frightened off by what might happen. Our presence gives our students hope. They see we are here to accompany them on their painful journey.

“I remain helpless. I am nobody in the government to change anything. I do something and the rest I leave to God. Please keep praying for me and our students who have been affected by skirmishes.”

 

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