‘I Offer the Pain I’m Going Through’: Shot Catholic Bishop-Elect Prays for Purification of South Sudan Diocese

Bishop-elect Carlassare was shot in both legs when two armed men fired multiple bullets at him after breaking into his room at the priests’ residence at Holy Family Cathedral in Rumbek in the early hours of April 26.

Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare of Rumbek recovers at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare of Rumbek recovers at a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. (photo: ACI Africa / EWTN)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A Catholic bishop-elect recovering from gunshot wounds said in a video released Tuesday that he is offering up his pain with the hope that God will purify his diocese in South Sudan.

In a message recorded by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare said that he was imploring God for an end to “violence, division, [and] selfish desires” in the diocese of Rumbek, which Pope Francis appointed him to lead on March 8.

Speaking from his hospital bed in Kenya, he said: “I bend low in front of God to intercede for the church of Rumbek. I pray for the conversion of sinners.”

“I offer the pain I’m going through so that the Lord our God may purify the church of Rumbek from all errors and things like these may happen no more; no room for violence, division, [and] selfish desires that come from the devil.”

Bishop-elect Carlassare was shot in both legs when two armed men fired multiple bullets at him after breaking into his room at the priests’ residence at Holy Family Cathedral in Rumbek in the early hours of April 26. He was later airlifted to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, for specialized treatment.

In the five-minute video recorded May 3, the Italian-born member of the Comboni Missionaries said: “Let me be a sign for all of you. As I will rise from this bed and walk again, let Rumbek also rise again, and walk the way of peace and unity.”

He said that he had accepted the pope’s appointment to the diocese, created in 1974, because of his love for the South Sudanese mission.

When Fr. Carlassare was named bishop of Rumbek in March, nearly 10 years after the death of the diocese’s last bishop, he described his appointment as an illustration of “the God of surprises.”

Fr. Christian Carlassare, Bishop-Elect of Rumbek, recovering at a hospital in Nairobi April 27 after having been shot in his rectory in Rumbek the previous day. Credit: ACI Africa.

Fr. Christian Carlassare, Bishop-Elect of Rumbek, recovering at a hospital in Nairobi April 27 after having been shot in his rectory in Rumbek the previous day. Credit: ACI Africa.

“Pope Francis and the College of Bishops send me to you, people of Rumbek, for this mission: to make the Church one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic; and I will accomplish this mission with all my heart for the love of you, and the love of South Sudan,” he said in the video.

He encouraged Catholics in Rumbek to work for “a church that is one, which means united; that is holy, which means gospel-like, that makes people to be holy; Catholic, which means that it embraces everyone no matter the clan, the tribe, or the skin color; and apostolic, which means that it comes to us from Jesus through the pope and the bishops.”

South Sudan, an east-central African country of 11 million people, gained independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian body in the country, which borders Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

The 43-year-old bishop-elect had served in South Sudan’s Malakal diocese since he arrived in the country in 2005.

He traveled to Rumbek diocese April 15, following a retreat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

His episcopal ordination, scheduled for Pentecost Sunday, May 23, has been postponed.

In the video, Bishop-elect Carlassare criticized some media coverage of the shooting.

“I read titles such as ‘Rumbek shot the bishop,’ or internationally, ‘South Sudan shot the bishop.’ Such a shame,” he said.

“It is not the people of South Sudan who shot me. It is not the Dinkas who shot me, neither the Agar,” he said, referring to communities in South Sudan.

He described the perpetrators as “a group of few people” lacking “human values.” He said that they were “a shame for their community.”

He added: “Rumbek does not beat and kill priests as it happened a few years ago; Rumbek does not mistreat religious brothers or sisters. Rumbek does not abuse any person. This is what we want from Rumbek. The opposite should never happen again.”

Fr. Carlassare invited “community leaders and local chiefs to spot out violent members of their community and apply the customary laws, which do not tolerate violence, especially when it can be avoided.”

“Do not allow violent members to hold all the community hostage. Dinka culture has no room for violence. Violence is not part of any culture in the world,” he said.

He thanked “all Christians around the world that have been praying for me and are giving me so much courage and trust in the Lord,” as well as the bishops of South Sudan and Sudan.

“I’m grateful for the sincere commitment of the government, from the Presidency to the authorities at the local level, to uphold the truth and take legal actions to correct the evil that has happened in Rumbek so that it may never happen again,” he said.

He told ACI Africa that the messages of solidarity had provided solace as he recovers from the attack.

“It has been a painful week because my legs have been in pain almost all the time. I went through three surgeries,” he said, noting that it was also “a week in which I experienced the closeness of many people, especially the doctors, but also many South Sudanese and friends from all over the world that sent their sympathies and solidarity.”

He said that the secret of adapting to life in hospital “has been the Lord that has been present through the time I have been on this bed, to pray and to feel his presence; I realized that my life is in his hands, and whatever I will do in the future will be for his good and this mission.”

“I accept also to live at this time in this bed, to wait, to be patient, to accept that healing takes time, both the healing of the body and also the healing of the heart,” he said.

Fr. Carlassare urged Catholics in Rumbek not to see the postponement of his episcopal consecration as an “abandonment,” but to regard it instead as “a time of preparation,” lived with hope, “looking at the Lord to understand the journey that He's asking us to walk through.”

“Certainly, we will be reunited and we will be reunited with purpose, without the confusion or doubt or fear that had been there the last weeks,” he said.

Speaking about his recovery, Fr. Carlassare said: “The doctors are very hopeful because they trust that the muscles that have been damaged may form again. Of course, they will need a long time of training so that they may reshape like they were before.”

“I am trustful that I may be able to walk like before. Maybe I will not be able to play football as I liked, but I will still walk.” 

Underscoring the need for unity, he said: “Let us be united in prayer, overcoming old grudges and violence that starts in our heart. Let us be understanding. Let us be good to one another. Let us really hold hand in hand, overcoming the wounds and the difficulties that a conflict brought to South Sudan and created a culture of violence that has now to disappear.”

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