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Sudan. Mission among the Nuer

Comboni Missionaries have been living with the Nuer people for almost twenty five years. They have been entrusted with the pastoral care of Saint Joseph the Worker's Parish in Leer, which is under the Diocese of Malakal. This parish comprises four counties: Leer, Mayiendit, Panyijiar and Koch all within Unity State. Their pastoral priorities: formation of leaders, education, youth and women.

The Nuer or Ney ti Naath, which is translated as 'the people among peoples', number approximately two million, spread out in a federation of sections and clans in Unity State (Bentiu), in Jongley State (Fangak and Akobo) and in Upper Nile (Nassir).
Their lifestyle has been adapted to the periodic flooding and dryness of the land. The permanent villages and settlements of the rural Nuer have mud and thatched huts with larger buildings housing the cattle and other livestock, located above the maximum flood level, to which the Nuer return during the rainy season and where they plant their crops. A typical settlement includes several extended families and other compounds. Bricks or any other permanent material buildings are rarely to be found.

The Nuer way of life is based on the extended family in which a man is the head of the family. Their political organization is based on kinship, which consists of families and further sub-divisions by lineage and has no central form of government. At times the tribes organize themselves into loose federations. The lineages are a major structural factor for political order. The territorial groupings and lineage groupings are more closely aligned for some particular purposes.

Nuer mostly live in the swampy areas of the former Upper Nile Provincial region. The influence of the environment on the lifestyle of the Nuer is obvious. They are sedentary (although individual families live in solitary settlements) and agro-pastoralists who manage to balance subsistence agriculture with cattle herding and fishing. Their economy is based on livestock and crops production such as sorghum and few other crops. However, some few people have recently started doing business as merchants in the local markets.

Ecclesial context

The first Catholic attempt towards the evangelisation of the Nuer had been made back in 1925 with the foundation of the mission of Yoinyang, now Rubkona, on the northern part of the Bahr El Ghazal River. It important logistic station for the mission of Bahr El Ghazal and a link towards the Nuer.

The presence of the Catholic Church in Leer dates back to the eighties. Prior to that time, the whole area had been entrusted by the British colonisers to the Protestants (American Protestant Mission) through the 'Missionary Act' that created the Mission Spheres (1905). This allowed the Presbyterians to be established all over and to form the Protestant mission territory until the establishment of the Catholic mission. In this context their Protestant/Presbyterian background still affects their life style a lot.
The beginning of the Catholic Christian Movement amongst the western Nuer took place in the eighties and was led by young Nuer common lay people, later on called catechists. It developed during the time of the war when these catechists founded many Christian communities around and baptised many people. Amongst these catechists was James Duol Kai, considered to be the founder of the Catholic Church in Unity State. Their work (1984-1993) was fundamental in the establishment of the Catholic Church amongst the Nuer. As far as we know, these inspired leaders became the first group in South Sudan that took up the work of evangelisation as we understand it in the Catholic Church.

In 1993 the catechists who worked hard for the establishment of the Catholic Church in the Nuerland felt it was important to ask for the presence of priests among them. A representative of two of them went to Nairobi to ask for ordained ministers. As a result, in 1996 a first group of Comboni Missionaries (MCCJ) came to Leer and established the mission. Since then, this young Church has developed much and grown stronger in faith and understanding of the Christian ethics. Some values were already part of the Nuer culture. Some social institution such as family life and marriage have still to mature a new understanding: polygamy is still widespread and appreciated in this culture.

The area has suffered during time of conflict and people had to move away to seek for safety. In 1998, missionaries had to abandon Leer and move with the people to Nyal after the attacks perpetuated by the the militia of late general Paolino Matip. Missionaries moved back to Leer in 2007. In 2014, Leer was attacked by government troops in the attempt to disperse opposition forces loyal to the opposition leaders Riek Machar. Missionaries were caught by surprise. They were attacked and had to run for their life. They remained for weeks hidden in the swamps with the people before being evacuated by the UN. Then, the missionaries moved to Nyal where they continued to offer pastoral care to the population which was victim once again of the conflict and violence.

Formation of leaders & Education
Formation of the pastoral agents is a priority of our missionary endeavour among the Nuer. In 2004 the parish catechetical centre 'James Duol Kai' was inaugurated in Nyal with a nine-month programme for the preparation of new catechists. James Duol Kai is a pioneer Nuer catechist who died in a crossfire in 1994 during the war. The formative programme continued in Leer up to 2014. The parish counts over three hundred catechists and lay pastoral agents. In May 2020, the missionaries plan to resume the programme in Leer to bring together the catechists in the main centre of the parish to witness the commitment of the Church for peace and reconciliation. Much violence occurred here in Leer during the latest conflict. The 'formation of the catechists' is the approach and apply the see-judge-act methodology. In communion with the objectives of the parish pastoral plan, the teaching programme covers the Bible, Liturgy, Sacraments, Catechesis, Church History, the Social Teaching of the Church and other relevant areas and topics according to specific needs.

Missionaries are mostly engaged in pastoral work as the vastness of the parish demands a lot of commitment to visit all centres covering long distances on foot.

In Nyal missionaries collaborated with the local community primary school and also promoted the first classes of the secondary school. The Catholic Church was running a nursery school in Leer and supporting other village kindergartens. In Leer missionaries also promoted a Vocational Training Centre (VTC). The VTC offered technical skills on agriculture and animal management. Besides this, the students also acquired a basic knowledge in Mathematics, English, CRE and Entrepreneurship. The centre was plundered and was closed in 2014. During its three years of activities, it contributed to the formation of hundreds of students. There is hope that the project will be taken up again once there is peace and security in the country.

Youth & Women ministry
The majority of people in our parish are youth. We are trying to offer pastoral accompaniment to teenagers through a systematic formative programme which includes the Bible, JPIC and other relevant youth issues. The women's ministry deals with the organised and non-organised women groups of the parish. It fosters women's promotion through Christian formation (e.g. Bible study, shared prayer, etc.), education (basic literacy) and better sharing in the decision making process, considering their marginalization in the Nuer society. It aims also at helping the women to improve the quality of their life in some practical skills (e.g. sewing and agriculture). The main challenges faced are illiteracy and the lack of constancy of the of the women due to their many commitments in the family.

Christian Carlassare

Sudan. St Mary's Hospital in Khartoum
At the service of Life

St. Mary's Hospital is located in the Arab market district of Khartoum. More than 300 children are born in this structure every month. We visited the centre.

Six Comboni missionaries of five different nationalities work there full time. The nuns are supported by a large team of 132 people, including seven doctors, 22 midwives, 23 nurses, 12 specialized caregivers, four anesthetists, three hematologists and several other people assigned to different services. The medical staff is composed mainly of women, as seems logical in a maternity hospital in an Islamic country.

We went to visit the hospital and the Mozambican sister Albertina Marcelino, who is the staff coordinator, accompanied us. First we visited the pharmacy, which is open 24 hours a day. The sister assured us that fortunately the hospital does not suffer from lack of medicines, and that, although it is a maternity hospital, people also go to the structure to buy medicines. Nearby the pharmacy there is the laboratory, whose main function is to provide the results of clinical tests as quickly as possible, and is also provided with a blood bank in order to deal with emergencies.

Upon leaving the inner courtyard, we found a group of mothers with their babies. They were there for periodic checks and for the vaccination program for mothers and children, which are provided every Tuesday and Saturday. Sister Albertina greets them in Arabic, caresses some of the babies and then confirms that, "All these children were born in this hospital".

The prenatal reception room is on the first floor. There we met Sister Erminiade of Italian origin, who is in charge of filling in the registration form of mothers-to-be. The St. Mary's Maternity Hospital has never made a distinction between Muslim or Christian, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Ethiopian or Eritrean women. All of them are welcome and receive equal service at the centre. Sister Albertina told us that the sisters of the hospital offer particular help to women from poor families who cannot afford to give birth to their baby in a hospital. Therefore, approximately 30% of women enjoy partial or total assistance, depending on their economic situation. The sister, who is in charge of being in touch with the families of these women to know their real situation, decides about the level of support to offer them.

Those women who can afford to pay for the services of the St. Mary's Hospital represent the remaining 70%, and their contribution is essential for the maintenance of the hospital. Many of these women get prenatal check-ups in the St.Mary's Maternity Hospital, while others are followed in health centres located in the city and only go to St. Mary's to give birth to their baby. They generally register themselves in advance, although some may arrive without prior notice.

The delivery rooms are the heart of the St Mary Hospital. We met, in the adjoining waiting room, a young woman of Eritrean origin who was very close to giving birth for the first time. You could see the joy in her eyes for her future motherhood and at the same time a shadow of fear for the pain she knew she would suffer during childbirth. We were also able to talk, thanks to the simultaneous translation of Sister Albertina, with two Sudanese women, a mother-to-be and her aunt, who were in another waiting room of the hospital.

The hospital has three perfectly equipped delivery rooms and an operating room for caesarean sections or for complicated deliveries. There are also intensive care rooms equipped with incubators. One of the rooms is antiseptic and only nurses have access to it.
In the case of premature births, or when babies have a particular problem, at least two nurses attend to them 24 hours a day. The sterilization rooms and the laundry, which are kept running at full capacity, are in the basement. The clothes arriving from the delivery room are subjected to particular sterilization. The sisters are aware that hygiene is essential, in fact 33 people are assigned to this service. In addition to the daily cleaning and systematic sterilization of medical equipment, a sterilization protocol is followed once a month for the sensitive places in the hospital.

Sister Albertina talked to us about her work and that of the Comboni missionaries at the hospital: "I happened to observe that in many places the poor are often ignored or neglected. As a missionary and nurse I try to show with my work that there are no differences between people. Our hospital welcomes and serves all the mothers and new born babies with equal human and professional dedication regardless of their ethnic, social, economical or religious diversities, because the mere fact of being people already gives them full dignity".

Just before leaving the hospital, we met a young paediatrician, Adiba, who had just finished tending to a new-born baby girl. Another 'daughter' of St Mary´s Hospital.

Enrique Bayo

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