CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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Holding the fort in South Sudan

JUBA (CNS): While most expatriate workers have left South Sudan since a brutal attack was carried out by what The Associated Press described as 80 heavily armed men, Brother Bill Firman says he believes it is a good place for a religious to be.

Reports say that the 80 men raped several women, especially singling out the Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions over nearly four hours.

The Australian De La Salle brother is in Juba with his confrère, Brother Denis Loft. He is currently the director of Solidarity with South Sudan and in charge of its compound in Juba, a hospitality and resource centre for all of the group’s activities and personnel in the country.

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international Catholic group of missionaries implementing teacher and health training, agriculture, trauma healing and pastoral programmes in many parts of South Sudan under the auspices of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Brother Denis is the project director of the mission.

“I don’t see any of our people being excessively nervous and we are living a normal life here,” Brother Bill said. “But we are cautious, because we do live with uncertainty about the future and declining law and order.”

The local people were predominantly from the Bari tribe, but the capital, Juba, now accommodates many people of every tribe, especially the dominant Dinka group, as well as a large non-African international community and an African presence, especially from close neighbours Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

“My colleagues and I believe this is a good place for religious to be,” the Australian brother said, noting that we know our continued presence encourages local residents and provides some hope.

The civil war that began December 2013 has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than two million people to flee their homes in the northeast African country.

In July this year, hundreds of people in Juba were killed in fighting that dashed hopes of a transitional government ending the conflict. Since then, sporadic fighting has rocked the north and east of the country.

“None of our members were evacuated, but many, probably most expatriates were,” Brother Bill said. “Many foreign aid workers are returning now and most of Catholic Relief Services (from United States of America) staff came back fairly quickly.”

He added, “I don’t see any of our people being excessively nervous and we are living a normal life here. But we are cautious, because we do live with uncertainty about the future and declining law and order.”

Brother Bill said that one of the biggest problems is that so many people are hungry, as the collapse of the economy is a major concern for everyone.

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