Daniel Comboni
Daniel Comboni

The history of the Diocese

All the Catholic missions now established in South Sudan date back to the time of the so-called Apostle of Africa, Saint Daniel Comboni. Over the period 1857-58, Daniel Comboni lived in a mission station located on the western bank of the Nile called The Holy Cross at Shambe. And it was from this humble station that all subsequent missions to East and Central Africa began. The evangelization of the region was severely hampered by the historical events of the time. Soon after the death of Daniel Comboni, for instance, the region was affected by the Mahdi Revolution (1881 – 1899) against the Egyptian occupation of the region. This resulted in all Christian missionaries being expelled from the territory.

Thereafter, the region came under the colonial control of the British, who governed the region until 1956. Whilst the British gave preference to the Anglican missionaries in the region, they also divided the region into catholic and protestant areas. As a result, virtually the entire territory of the current Diocese of Rumbek was allocated to the anglicans. There were, however, small catholic missions in Thiet and Tonj under the Apostolic Vicariate of Bahr el-Ghazal (Wau). It was not until July 3 rd , 1955 that the Diocese of Rumbek (DOR) was established as Apostolic Vicariate by Pope Pius XII. At that time it was much larger than today’s diocese and led by the South Sudanese Bishop Ireneo Wien Dud. Just one year later, control of the region passed from the British to the new Sudanese government in Khartoum and thereafter began a fight for freedom on the part of the South Sudanese that would last almost half a century.

In 1955-1972 the rebel movement known as Anyanya led to rebellion against the Mulsim-oriented government. Then, after a short period of relative peace and autonomy, in 1983 the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) took up arms eventually forcing the government of Khartoum to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

The life of the Diocese in these times was troubled. In 1964, all foreign missionaries were expelled from Sudan by the Military Government of General Abboud. This left the missions under the control of only a few local clergy and catechists, all of whom were persecuted. It was at this time Fr. Arkangelo Ali of the Diocese of Rumbek was shot and killed by Arab soldiers during a raid causing his followers to flee and causing the church in Rumbek to be largely abandoned. Thereafter, although the 1972 Addis-Ababa Peace Agreement ended 17 years of civil war, many catholic priests still did not return to the diocese. Indeed from 1974 to 1981 there was only one priest in the entire territory.

It was not until 1974 that Rumbek was elevated to the status of a Diocese and the Apostolic Vicar of Wau, Bishop Ireneo Wien Dud appointed as Apostolic Administrator. Gabriel Dwatukawas ordained as the first Bishop of Rumbek on January 24th, 1976 and in the same year the missions of Tonj, Thiet and Warrap were incorporated into the Diocese of Rumbek.

When Bishop Dwatuka resigned in 1981, the leadership of the Diocese was entrusted to the Archbishop Emeritus of Khartoum, Agostino Baroni MCCJ, who continued in this role until 1983 when the Second South Sudanese Liberation war broke out. Archbishop Baroni was succeeded by Fr. Giuseppe Pellerino MCCJ (1983-1990) but the persecution of the church continued until Fr. Mazzolari became Apostolic Administrator in 1991 and was consecrated Bishop in January 1999.

It was under the leadership of the charismatic and inspired Bishop Mazzolari that the Diocese of Rumbek was rebuilt, rising from the ashes of its troubled past to the present level of development. The task was not, however, an easy one. In the early years, the ongoing war forced the Bishop to direct all Diocesan activities from outside the area, making only occasional and very dangerous trips into his Diocese. Thereafter, as the population fled from the atrocities of war, the Bishop established small missions in the relative safety of bush, far from the main roads. These included Mapuordit (1993), Marial Lou (1994) and Agangrial (1995). In this way the Diocese was able to continue to offer succour not only to the people of Rumbek but also to those of Lakes Province, the Diocese of Wau and the Nuba Mountains.

In May 1997, Rumbek township was re-conquered by the SPLA forces and the Bishop was finally able to return, only to discover that the town of Rumbek had been razed to the ground. In the subsequent year, DOR assumed the pastoral care of a number of regions, whose own bishops were not able to reach their dioceses. Bishop Mazzolari led the Diocese until his death on July 16th 2011, only one week after the Republic of South Sudan had obtained independence (July 9th 2011). After the tragic death of our Bishop, the reins of leadership were entrusted to Fr. Fernando Colombo MCCJ who became our Diocesan Administrator until ill health forced him to resign in 2013. Thereafter the mantle of leadership passed to Fr. John Mathian Machol, who was appointed as Diocesan Coordinator. He remained in this role until, on March 8 th , 2021, after nearly ten years of sedisvacancy, the Vatican declared Fr.Christian Carlassare MCCJ to be the Bishop-elect. The Bishop-elect was to have been ordained on 23 rd May, 2021 and joyous preparations were already being made for this momentous event. But once again, as so many times before in the history of our diocese, violence intervened. Before his ordination, Fr. Christian was shot five times in the legs by gunmen who broke into his room in the dark of night. He was airlifted out of Rumbek to Nairobi for medical treatment and convalescence. In the interim the Vatican has appointed Bishop Matthew Remijio of the Diocese of Wau as Apostolic Administrator. And it is under his leadership that the Diocese continues in the steadfast pursuance of its mission.

The Ordinaries of DOR

The Ordinaries, Administrators and Coordinator of DOR in chronological order are:

  • 1955 – 1960 Bishop Ireneo Wien Dud, Apostolic Vicar
  • 1960 – 1972 Msgr. Lino Tiboi, Apostolic Administrator
  • 1972 – 1975 Bishop Ireneo Wien Dud, Ap. Vicar of Wau, Apostolic Administrator
  • 1975 – 1976 Bishop Gabriel Zubeir Wako
  • 1976 – 1981 Bishop Gabriel Dwatuka
  • 1981 – 1983 Archbishop Agostino Baroni, MCCJ, Apostolic Administrator
  • 1983 – 1990 Rev. Fr. Giuseppe Pellerino, MCCJ, Apostolic Administrator
  • 1990 – 2011 Bishop Caesar Mazzolari, MCCJ, Apostolic Administrator up to 1999, then Bishop.
  • 2011 – 2013 Diocesan Administrator, Fr. Fernando Colombo MCC
  • 2013 – 2021 Diocesan Coordinator, Fr. John Mathiang Machol
  • May 2021 to March 2022    Bishop Matthew Remijio Adam, Apostolic Administrator
  • March 2022  to date    Bishop Christian Cassalare MCCJ

About South Sudan’s current economic situation

The signing of the latest truce in September 2018 and subsequent formation of a unity government in February 2020 had provided hope for recovery and peace building. Conflict events decreased significantly  in 2019, allowing some refugees previously dispersed in the region to return.  At the same time, a resumption of oil production in oil fields previously shutdown due to conflict had raised hopes for an oil-led recovery. However, the country faces the risk of reversal of these gains, with increasing incidents of inter-clan violence in 2020 and the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic exacerbating an already dire situation.

South Sudan remains in a serious humanitarian crisis due to the cumulative effects of years of conflict which has destroyed people’s livelihoods. Extreme levels of acute food insecurity persist across the country and nearly more than 6 million (about half of the population) are facing crisis- level food insecurity, with 1.4 million children under 5 years expected to be acutely malnourished in 2021. Almost 4 million people remain displaced by the humanitarian crisis, with nearly 1.6 million people displaced internally and some 2.2 million refugees in six neighboring
countries. Women and children continue to be the most affected.  In 2020,  communities were hit hard by the triple shock of intensified conflict and inter-tribal violence, a second consecutive year of major flooding, and the impacts of COVID-19, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation.

Insecurity, lack of basic services, and unresolved housing, land and property issues prevented people from returning home in large numbers. Some 8.3 million people in South Sudan are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. These include 8,000,000 nationals and 310,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This is an 800,000 increase in absolute numbers from the 7.5 million people in need in 2020. The increase in needs is largely driven by the rising food insecurity.

As recent events have shown, the South Sudan economy is especially vulnerable to weather, oil price, and conflict related shocks.  The economy had picked up strongly before the COVID-19 pandemic, with gross domestic product (GDP) real growth reaching 9.5% in FY2019/20. The oil sector has continued to be the primary driver of growth, with estimated oil production of 62.1 million barrels in FY2019/20, representing a 26.5% increase on the 49.1 million barrels realized in FY2018/19. In the agricultural sector, cultivated area increased by 6% in 2020 compared to the
previous year, but it is still far from reaching the pre-conflict levels. However, living standards deteriorated as the pandemic disrupted livelihoods. High-frequency surveys conducted in June 2020 showed that 51.2% of respondents reported reduced earnings from their main income source. The situation has since improved somewhat, with 50.7% of the respondents reporting reduced incomes by October 2020.

Expenditures on key social sectors including health, education, water and sanitation, and agriculture and rural development are limited. Consequently, poverty levels are expected to remain extremely high on the back of severe food insecurity and limited access to basic services across the country. About 82% of the population in South Sudan is poor according to the most recent estimates, based on the $1.90 2011 purchasing power parity poverty line.