Irish missionaries escape ‘war-zone’ in South Sudan

“Peace talks and a cessation of fighting are a priority,” Sr Betty Ryan FCJ

Irish missionaries working in South Sudan have escaped the waves of violence sweeping the country and have thanked all those who prayed for their safety.

Four religious sisters working with Solidarity with South Sudan, a consortium of more than 200 religious congregations training teachers, nurses and pastoral workers in South Sudan, had to leave their base in Malakal due to “fierce fighting” over the Christmas period.

War zone

“Our solidarity college and staff house was in a ‘war zone’ as the rebels fought to take control of the Northern end of the city,” Sr Betty Ryan FCJ told The Irish Catholic. “Fortunately that did not happen and by the power of prayer from the entire solidarity family around the world, the four of us who were there at the time and our property escaped unscathed.”

Sr Betty, Sr Margaret Sheehan – another Irish member of the Society of the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus – and two sisters from other congregations moved to Rumbek on January 2 to escape the bombardment of Malakal, and many of their training programmes have been cancelled.

“The market in Malakal town centre was totally destroyed, looted and burned so food would be an insurmountable problem even if student teachers were willing to come to Malakal,” Sr Betty said. “Peace talks and a cessation of fighting are a priority. Reconciliation is an on-going and urgent need so that the cycle of revenge attacks do not continue.”

Fr John Skinnader CSSp, a Spiritan priest from Co. Monaghan, runs a small seminary in Rumbek. While the fighting has not reached him he told The Irish Catholic he may not be able to reopen the seminary after the holidays “as the government may try and recruit them into the army – there is mass mobilisation taking place at present”.

“Despite the insecurity the churches were packed with young people over the Christmas period, and their prayer was ‘no more war’,” he said.

Peace talks

Three weeks of fighting in South Sudan, a newly independent country since 2011, has displaced an estimated 200,000 people. Peace talks officially opened last Saturday in Ethiopia, but violence continued as The Irish Catholic went to print.