Writing a New Chapter for South Sudan

Students Walk for Peace in Historic Pilgrimage to Meet Pope

Students from different tribes and regions of South Sudan came together in a nine-day pilgrimage called “Walking for Peace,” a journey led by Bishop of Rumbek, Christian Carlassare, that culminated in the opportunity to greet Pope Francis during his historic visit to the nation February 3-5.

Sixty students ranging from 18 to 20 years old, and 24 support staff, traveled on foot from Rumbek to South Sudan’s capital city of Juba – a distance equivalent to walking from New York City to Washington, DC. Among the support staff was Sister Orla Treacy, Principal of Loreto Schools, a Sudan Relief Fund partner and a leading force for girls’ education in the nation. 

From January 25th to February 2nd, the group walked through towns and villages as a demonstration of unity and peace, a startling and encouraging entourage in a nation that’s been plagued by political turmoil and tribal divides since its independence in 2011.

Bishop Carlassare described the journey as “a beautiful experience of encountering different Christian communities, because every evening…we were praying, celebrating, passing on the message of reconciliation and peace.” He told how each night as they stayed in a different parish, the hosts as well as local people would join their group and come together to pray.

“I think we were the hope, somehow, for all the people who were seeing us, and a hope for the country,” said the bishop. “People responded by joining us…walking together and joining us for prayer. The pilgrimage was really done by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who felt like we need to join together…We felt a common humanity.”

The bishop described the experience’s impact on the students – most who had never been to Juba or traveled that far within their country. “It empowered them and exposed them to the idea that…together we can do great things and bring change. So it was a powerful encouragement and hope for them.”

Pope Francis had heard of the students’ pilgrimage and asked to meet the young people who made the journey. Meeting the students on the steps outside the cathedral in the capital city, he told them, “You are a great witness to me and to the Church. Please continue on this way.” The pope then blessed the students and gave each of the participants a rosary.

The students’ portrayed a powerful message of reconciliation in each town they passed through, by representing a peaceful and diverse group themselves – young adults from different tribes and villages in South Sudan who come together harmoniously each day in pursuit of their studies and a more positive future for their country.

“People were full of joy to see young people — 
who used to fight, marching with guns — instead 
marching with crosses and banners of peace.”

Bishop Carlassare

If children are the future, these young adults are ambassadors for a different South Sudan – a nation whose future is marked by change from its history of divisiveness, and replaced by a yearning for a people who simply see themselves as South Sudanese. 

As Pope Francis said so poignantly to Bishop Carlassare, “Thank you for the witness of these youth; they are writing a new chapter for South Sudan.” Read more about this story here.

Female Graduate Returns from Medical Training to Serve at Clinic

Racheal Piath is blazing trails for girls in South Sudan as one of the first female graduates to return with a degree in the medical sector.

Racheal just completed her higher education to earn a Diploma in Clinical Medicine, and has come back to her alma mater to serve at the Mary Ward Primary Healthcare Center, located on the campus of the Loreto Rumbek School for Girls.

Racheal is an example of an initiative directed by Sister Orla Treacy, Principal of Loreto School for Girls, whose motto is, “In the future, women will do great things.” The school is a catalyst for girls’ education in a country that has traditionally denied females the opportunity for higher education, or nearly any schooling at all.

Typically only 30% of students enrolled in school are girls. Of that group, a scant 2-3% go on to secondary school. It is estimated only 8% of women in South Sudan can read – one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Tragically, a girl has historically been more likely to die in childbirth here than to finish primary school.

But all that is changing with the pioneering work of Loreto School for Girls. The school recently boasted their first female alumni who became a lawyer, and each year more girls are going on to seek higher education after graduation. The benefits of Sister Orla’s work come full circle when these young ladies return to serve in their home areas, where their skills are greatly needed.

The school’s health clinic is a light to the community, and its services were integral during COVID when the government asked the clinic to remain open, as shutdowns affected nearly all other healthcare services in the area. Initially the clinic saw 1,500 patients a day, but eventually expanded to more than triple their capacity, administering medicine to 5,000 patients daily at the height of the pandemic.

The clinic also sponsors nutritional and wellness programs for new mothers, and outreach programs in the community. Racheal will work at Mary Ward as a Clinical Officer, sharing her skills, and offering inspiration to other girls of what can be achieved with their potential.


Courageous Girl Survives Bandit Attack

South Sudan is a volatile country, and daily life can be just as volatile. Eleven-year-old Rimaz knows this well.

Recently, Rimaz shared her story with Sudan Relief Fund as she sat recuperating in her bed at Mother of Mercy Hospital. She told of the day she joined her uncle, brother, and several others for a walk to a cross-border market, so her uncle could travel from there to Khartoum. A cross-border market is situated on the border between liberated areas of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) and the government of Sudan.

About an hour after they left their uncle at the border and began to make the trek home, the group was suddenly and viciously attacked by a group of bandits on camels. Gunshots rang out. All four instantly fell wounded, including Rimaz and her brother.

Rimaz had been shot in her arm and the force knocked her to the ground, where she lay semi-conscious with her arm draped across her chest. There was so much bleeding from her wound that it appeared as if her chest were covered in blood, and the bandits took Rimaz for dead.

One particularly gruesome attacker reached down and cut off Rimaz’s ear, still assuming she was dead. In a moment of incomprehensible bravery, Rimaz didn’t flinch or make a sound, knowing it would betray that she was alive and her attackers would surely kill her.

For more than an hour she lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness. Tragically, two friends in their group had been killed instantly. But miraculously Rimaz and her brother – who was also shot in the arm and pretending to be dead – were both alive.

After what seemed like a grueling eternity, Rimaz’s brother felt enough time had passed that it was safe for them to move. He urged his sister to get up so they could find help. But Rimaz was too weak to rise. She could only respond, but she didn’t have the strength to stand.

Rimaz’s brother ran all the way back home, and soon people came to help them get to the nearest medical facility. Because of Rimaz’s extensive blood loss and the wound to her arm, she was redirected to Mother of Mercy, the missional hospital where Dr. Tom Catena and his staff tirelessly serve the vast Nuba Mountain region of Sudan. She was taken in for immediate emergency care.

Since being admitted to Mother of Mercy Hospital, Rimaz has had two surgeries on her arm, and in the excellent care of Dr. Tom and his team, she is recovering well from her injuries. With a radiant smile she says she is feeling much better now. Then her face darkens as she recounts the loss of her friends, and how she feels self-conscious about her injured ear.

But this courageous young girl knows she is lucky to be alive. “I feel very bad for my two friends who were killed, and I feel very ashamed that I have lost my ear,” she expressed. “But I thank God for sparing my life. And I also thank God for this hospital, for the surgery I was able to have, and for them taking care of me.”

These stories of Lives Saved are made possible by your support of Sudan Relief Fund. Thank you for making a lifesaving difference for Rimaz, and so many others who are blessed by your help.

Would you like to pray for us? Sign up for our email prayer group to receive weekly emails sharing important needs to pray for. You’ll join a faith community around the globe praying to bring hope and help to suffering people in this forgotten part of the world. Click here to find out more.

New Life Springing Up in the Desert

Garden Project Grows Food and Hope

Before, hundreds of families here were suffering from leprosy. When they were discovered, they were homeless, dying from illness and starvation, and devoid of hope – continually forced far away from any help society might offer.

But that was before. Today they are beginning to thrive, thanks to the blessings of medical care, shelter, clothing, clean water, and an agricultural project sponsored by Sudan Relief Fund that is bringing new life to a formerly desolate land and people.

It is a story of new beginnings. With the help of Sudan Relief Fund supporters, families received emergency food relief. A clean water well was drilled. New homes providing shelter are being built across the community. A small medical clinic stands on the grounds – a crucial component where residents now receive medicine to stop the progression of their illness. Regular treatments will eventually cure this community from the scourge of leprosy entirely.

Now hope grows here daily, springing up as visibly as the green crops that the fields are beginning to yield. The availability of water and tools to work the fields have given new life to this community in more ways than one. Crops feed the body, while having a purpose like working the ground feeds the soul. Occupational training is helping injured people find gainful ways to support themselves. Children can go to school.

Now the people here think about a future – one not filled with despair, but with potential. A potential the leper colony of Malou never thought they would have.

Your help is making this possible, and your support is transforming lives in the most literal sense. Thank you for standing with us until the day the leper colony of Malou is no longer a leper colony at all – just the community of Malou, with people tending their fields and raising their families.

“’…the desert will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will bring forth bountiful crops.”

– Is. 32:15

Sudan Relief Fund Partner Reflects on Historic Visit with Pope Francis

Pope Francis recently visited South Sudan in what he called a “Pilgrimage of Peace,” the first of its kind since the nation’s independence, and a long-awaited event for many in the largely Catholic country. Sudan Relief Fund Program Coordinator, Fred Otieno, was on the ground in South Sudan to experience the historic visit and shared his firsthand account.

My Solemn Meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis

“I was privileged to meet Pope Francis during his Pilgrimage visit to South Sudan in early February. The Pope’s visit to our country was very significant, a culmination of God’s divine evangelization to share a message of lasting peace to a wounded country.

South Sudan was very blessed by the three-day apostolic journey of his holiness Pope Francis. The culmination of the three-day event was the celebration of the Holy Mass led by Pope Francis. The theme centered on peace and reconciliation, and called on political leaders to be light and salt to the people of South Sudan – a role model for the people to emulate, working for the common good of the country so it may grow holistically.

Sudan Relief Fund program coordinator, Fred Otieno, meets Pope Francis during his “Pilgrimage of Peace” to visit South Sudan February 3-5.

I was honored to be among the few people able to meet His holiness, Pope Francis, on behalf of Sudan Relief Fund. This invitation to meet the Pope was extraordinary.

During our time together, I was able to briefly share about the work Sudan Relief Fund is doing to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the people. It was an encounter that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It’s evident the Holy Father cares deeply about the people of South Sudan, and he stands with all those suffering.  

My personal encounter with Pope Francis was a miracle – a lifelong experience that I’ll forever cherish. I am humbled to be a part of Sudan Relief Fund, to be a voice for the voiceless in South Sudan. May the blessings I received from the Holy Father strengthen and sustain Sudan Relief Fund and all the generous donors who support this organization.”

-Fred Otieno

Program Coordinator, South Sudan

Pope’s Visit Sparks Support For Work of Sudan Relief Fund

The pomp and fanfare has settled following the historic visit of Pope Francis to South Sudan. But attention brought by his visit continues to spark hope and reignite support for aid work to the struggling nation, as reported in a Catholic New Agency news article.

Pope Francis became the first pope or western dignitary to visit the country since South Sudan gained their independence in 2011 after a protracted and horrendous war. Since then, the young nation has been marked with civil war and internal conflict. For many war-weary and impoverished South Sudanese, the pope’s visit brought encouragement that their plight hasn’t been forgotten by the rest of the world.

Matt Smith, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Development for Sudan Relief Fund, noted that ahead of the pope’s three-day visit from February 3-5, “there was a level of excitement and buzz that was unparalleled” in South Sudan. Indeed more than 100,000 citizens attended the public mass led by the Holy See on the final day of his trip. The pope also met with more than 2,500 refugees at the Freedom Center in the country’s capital city of Juba.

Pope Francis brought a strong message of peace and reconciliation, calling on leadership to set aside strife and serve the needs of their nation’s people first.

It’s evident that the Holy Father cares deeply about the people.

Sudan Relief Fund Program Coordinator for South Sudan, Fred Otieno, was also in attendance and received a personal audience with the pope. “It was an encounter that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” said Otieno. During the exchange, he was able to talk with Pope Francis about the work of Sudan Relief Fund, and how the Church is an invaluable partner to facilitate timely and effective aid to those in need.

“It’s evident that the Holy Father cares deeply about the people of South Sudan and he stands in solidarity with those suffering,” Otieno shared.

South Sudan continues to rank in the bottom of the world’s list of nations with regard to infrastructure, opportunity, healthcare, literacy and education rates, and mortality rates in childbirth. Meanwhile, organizations like Sudan Relief Fund continue to fight those statistics, bringing immediate emergency aid to suffering people as well as maintaining programs designed to lay the foundation for long-term transformation.

The work of Sudan Relief Fund is made possible by donors and a network of prayer partners. For information on how to help, go here. Read the Catholic News Agency’s full report on this article here.

Good News from St. Bakhita Orphanage

Thank you to our supporters who have stood steadfastly by Sister Bianca Bii and the children of St. Bakhita Orphanage. Because of your faithful commitment, they’re doing well and living in Nzara, where they recently moved to be in a more stable and secure environment.

Despite her age, Sister Bianca takes care of 66 children. She also took in ten elderly people who were abandoned when the violence broke out in their villages.

When the sudden uprising swept through Tombura last year, Sister Bianca and the children were evacuated to a refugee camp. Your support provided them food and necessities throughout their stay. They returned after several months to the orphanage grounds, but fighting was always close by.

Sudan Relief Fund partners have now been able to move Sister Bianca and all the children to a much safer location. In Nzara, they are out of danger from the instability in Tombura. Sister Bianca is grateful for the incredible amount of support she received during their difficult time. She received critical food and non-food items throughout the year. And with donor funding, she was able to buy food for the children from the local market.

In Nzara, the children are not just in a secure location. They now have access to high quality healthcare at St. Theresa’s Hospital, a Sudan Relief Fund supported facility. And in Nzara, the children will be able to go to school again. Conditions in Tombura had made it too dangerous for them to leave the orphanage.

Although Sister Bianca is in her seventies, she’s been primarily responsible for all the lives in her care. In her new location, Sister Bianca will have assistance from the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary in caring for the children.

Thank you for your ongoing support for St. Bakhita Orphanage and your unwavering commitment to provide for them. It has been, and continues to be, their lifeline. Your support made this move possible, and greatly impacts their security and quality of life.

His Own Guardian Angel

Saving a Boy’s Life Twice

Sister Bianca Carries Out Dangerous Rescue for Child Soldier

Sister Bianca Bii has dedicated her entire life to rescuing orphaned children. A champion of resilience with the highest moral respect for human life, she has taken care of children at St. Bakhita’s Orphanage for decades. Support from Sudan Relief Fund was essential through the years and continues to greatly impact the lives of children in her care.

Sister Bianca came across a young boy, Paul, who lost both parents during the civil war in South Sudan. According to Sister Bianca, the boy was completely emaciated when she met him, and doctors advised her to let the child die, because he was so weak from malnourishment and suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Sister Bianca determined to intervene nonetheless. She took it upon herself to take care of the boy, providing food supplements and antiretroviral medications to boost his immune system. Eventually against the odds, he began to thrive. It was a remarkable turnaround. But their story doesn’t end there.

When Paul was strong and had grown to middle school age, he was captured by the rebels and taken to the bush, where he was conscripted to be a child soldier. He was expected to burn houses, kill, and steal valuables. After two years as their captive, he developed health complications again and was left completely ill and malnourished.

Sister Bianca leaves no child behind. After saving him once from dire illness, she risked her safety to rescue him from rebel soldiers.

Sister Bianca came to Paul’s rescue a second time. In an incredible and risky feat, she managed to evacuate him from Tombura to Yambio, because the rebels were hunting for him in order to kill him. The distance from Tombura to Yambio is almost 100 miles and the road system is terrible. Along the way, Sister Bianca had to disguise him as a girl to smuggle him safely out of the region.

Thankfully, he is now in secure hands, and being taken care of by a humanitarian agency.  Sister Bianca can now rest in good conscience knowing he is safe and provided for. Those who were involved in this Lives Saved story wish to say God bless to Sudan Relief Fund, and God bless the donors of Sudan Relief Fund, whose support to Sister Bianca contributed immensely to his successful rescue.

Would you like to pray for us? Sign up for our email prayer group to receive weekly emails sharing important needs to pray for. You’ll join a faith community around the globe praying to bring hope and help to suffering people in this forgotten part of the world. Click here to find out more.

Answering the Cries of the Forgotten

Beyond Pope’s Visit, Much Work Remains to Alleviate Suffering in South Sudan

The historic visit of Pope Francis to South Sudan in early February brought moral support and inspiration to a people reeling so long from conflict and poverty.

Importantly, the move by the Vatican demonstrated an appreciation for the people of this new and volatile nation, made an express call for peace, and reminded weary citizens of the troubled nation they are not forgotten.

As Colm Flynn of EWTN News expressed in his NCR article, “The Forgotten Souls of South Sudan,” such a visit is merely the first step in a long-term commitment needed to ultimately help this people live in dignity and sufficiency. After the pomp and circumstance has settled, a challenging road still lies ahead for this nation.

Flynn highlights some of the most heartrending sights of his visit: vast numbers of homeless children living alone on the streets of Juba; the plight of orphans in an austere shelter on the outskirts of the capital; the shocking existence of leper colonies in our modern age with people still suffering in unimaginable ways; the corruption even he and his news crew encountered in their travels, and the necessity of armed police escorts accompanying them everywhere they went.

Compounding these scenarios are the climatic conditions that swing from massive floods to devastating droughts; and world political events putting a strain on a deadly food shortage where more than a million people could starve this year.

But despite the dire sights and encounters, Flynn’s report shares stories of hope sprinkled among the images of suffering – stories of organizations like Sudan Relief Fund bringing food, medicine, and shelter to communities. Missionary individuals partnering to save lives at great sacrifice to themselves. Nuns helping orphaned children believe they have value for the first time in their lives. Holistic efforts that are meeting both physical needs and planting seeds of hope for people who desperately need it.

Flynn shared how the government of this country seems unable or unwilling to take up the cause of their people. If help is to be received, he noted, it is left to humanitarian organizations, missionaries, and lay volunteers who refuse to look the other way, to answer the cries of the South Sudanese.

Said Flynn, “Following the visit of Pope Francis, and while the images of him driving through the capital are still fresh in our memory, it’s important we raise awareness of the forgotten souls of South Sudan, and the horrific reality they have to face every single day.”

If you are compelled to help the work of Sudan Relief Fund through donation, go here.

You can also join the Sudan prayer list by going here.

Pope Francis Admonishes Leaders to “Leave War Behind and Let a Time of Peace Dawn” in Historic Visit to South Sudan

Throngs of people from the nation of South Sudan came together to celebrate the long awaited arrival of Pope Francis, who visited the capital city of Juba February 3rd through 5th. Cheering crowds amid colorful murals lined the streets that were newly paved in honor of the occasion, waving flags and shouting jubilant greetings as the Holy See came to encourage the people of this war-torn and impoverished country.

The Pope wasted no time emphasizing his message of peace, urging leaders at the Presidential Palace on Friday that there be no more destruction, and to leave the time of war behind in order that a time of peace may dawn.

In his pointed message, Pope Francis boldly expressed that “History itself will remember you, if you work for the benefit of these people that you have been called to serve. Future generations will either venerate your name or cancel their memory based on what you do now.”

Directly addressing the president and vice president, Pope Francis admonished, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people athirst for peace.” He reminded the governing body the purpose of power is to serve the community and to place themselves at the service of others.

“They need fathers, not overlords; they need steady steps towards development, not constant collapses,” Pope Francis rebuked. He added his hope that the painful steps the young nation has endured would lead to “a peaceful maturity.”

The Pope’s visit was also purposed to bring hope and encouragement to the people of South Sudan, where approximately six million of the country’s ten million people are Catholic.

His tour included a visit to St. Teresa’s Cathedral in Juba on Saturday, where he greeted hundreds of women waving signs calling for hope and peace. A group of girls attending with Sister Orla Treacy, Principal of the Loreto School for Girls in Rumbek, were among those to receive the Pope’s message. The school is supported by Sudan Relief Fund, and serves as a pioneering institution helping girls become educated in a country still reluctant to permit them.

In a nation where, according to UNICEF, approximately 75 percent of girls don’t attend school, graduates from Loreto Secondary School going on to higher education are blazing a new path for women in the country.

“A 22 year-old girl going to university is like a taboo for many of the society…but it is changing and the young women are now coming with a vision for what they also want for their country,” Sister Orla said.

On the final day of what Pope Francis termed his “Pilgrimage of Peace,” the Holy See concluded with his strong message of reconciliation, calling for the laying down of weapons and forgiveness for one another.

Presiding over a Mass before an estimated crowd of 100,000 people at the nation’s monument for independence – a group which also contained the country’s leadership – he beseeched the people, “Even if our hearts bleed for the wrongs we have suffered, let us refuse, once and for all, to repay evil with evil. Let us accept one another and love one another with sincerity and generosity, as God loves us.”

A message echoing Pope Francis’ call for peace was posted by a group of students at Solidarity Teacher’s Training College, a Sudan Relief Fund supported facility, in honor of the historic event. Reflecting the innate hope the people continue to grasp for the future of their country, the students sang a song of unity with a simple, but profound message:

“We are one though we are many. From all tribes of South Sudan we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice: I am, you are, we are from South Sudan.”

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