MALAKAL, South Sudan —The Diocese of Malakal in South Sudan has been evacuated now that many areas have been “completely destroyed” following violence committed by rebel forces, the diocesan administrator says.
“We have lost everything, all our possessions. Many of our churches, homes and so on have been razed to the ground — and everything has been looted,” Msgr. Roko Taban, administrator of the Diocese of Malakal, told Aid to the Church in Need.
South Sudan was formed in 2011, when the region gained independence from the Republic of Sudan following a 20-year-long civil war. Recently, the nascent country erupted in violence again as forces loyal to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and those allied behind former Vice President Riek Machar have come into conflict.
The conflict has led to at least 739,000 becoming internally displaced and 123,000 fleeing the country as refugees.
While a cease-fire was signed Jan. 23, within weeks, fighting broke out again. Both sides accuse each other of initiating the renewed violence, which began in Malakal Feb. 18. Patients in the city’s hospital have been murdered in their beds, according to Doctors Without Borders.
Msgr. Taban said there have been mass evacuations in the states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei. There has been mass looting and attacks on both hospitals and pharmacies, and malaria and diarrhea are on the rise.
All diocesan priests and women religious are fleeing to the south.
“Nobody [is] in Malakal. They ran for their lives. It was not possible for anybody to stay,” Msgr. Taban said. “The diocese is completely empty. We have lost everything as a diocese. … All documents have gone. No vehicles. There is absolutely nothing left.”
When looting came to Malakal, many of the city’s 250,000 fled “to the bush,” he said, to villages now overwhelmed with the displaced.
Msgr. Taban and the priests of the diocese are now staying at a seminary in Juba, the South Sudanese capital. Four priests remained in the diocese, but were waiting to be evacuated.
He said his priests are in need of a food supply for six months, prayer books and vestments to replace what had to be left behind in Malakal.
In 2010, the Malakal diocese was served by 12 diocesan priests and 10 religious. It’s 876,000 Catholics constituted nearly 20% of the population. Msgr. Taban has been administrator of the diocese since May 2009, when its last bishop, Vincent Mojwok Nyiker, retired.
A Comboni missionary who also fled Malakal, Sister Elena Balatti, told Fides news service that the city is “completely deserted, although our safety was guaranteed. Staying there would have been completely useless, because we would not have had anyone to assist. The rebels are the only ones present.”
Msgr. Taban appealed for the Malakal Diocese, saying he and his people “need special attention of solidarity and love.”
“We are miserable,” he said. “Kindly remember us in your prayers.”
Editor’s note: Donations to support Aid to the Church in Need’s assistance to the Church in South Sudan can be made here. Donations to support the relief efforts of Catholic Relief Services in South Sudan can be made here.