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.”

South Sudan Reflects on its Catholic History As Nation Prepares for Pope’s Arrival

As South Sudan gears up for the anticipated visit of Pope Francis, the nation celebrates ties to its Catholic and Christian heritage, an identity safeguarded in its constitution preserving religious freedom in the newly sovereign nation.

Achieving independence from Sudan in 2011 after a bloody struggle that raged for years, the South Sudanese were liberated from the brutal reign of Omar al-Bashir – a dictator bent on waging genocide against all Christian and non-Muslim people within his country.

Over half the citizens of South Sudan consider themselves Christian, with a Catholic majority representing about 52% of that population. Christianity came to the region of Sudan as early as the sixth century, and experienced a significant revival in the 1800s through the ministry of Italian Comboni missionaries, who remain active in South Sudan today. 

South Sudan’s independence opened the door for the Church to freely operate throughout the country, and it continues to play a significant role – not only spiritually but also through service and human development. Church parishes have been on the frontlines in providing refugee aid during times of conflict or natural disaster. Christian and Catholic organizations operate hospitals, run schools and seminaries, and are an influential voice for peace in a nation that remains internally divided.

Throughout his tenure, Pope Francis has consistently demonstrated concern for the struggle of the South Sudanese people, and worked to encourage peace among its factions. Some of these appeals included holding a Prayer Vigil for South Sudan in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2017, and designating a special Day of Prayer in 2018 after canceling a trip due to security concerns.

In 2019, the Holy See hosted South Sudanese leaders at the Vatican, calling for peace between rival political parties. In 2021, Pope Francis, in conjunction with the Archbishop, wrote a joint message to the nation’s leaders urging heightened efforts to end internal violence for the sake of its conflict-weary people.

After Pope Francis was forced to postpone a visit last July for health issues, he released a video message urging the South Sudanese “not to be robbed of hope,” a message he will no doubt reinforce during his upcoming trip February 3-5.

Read more here. 

Pope’s Visit to Congo and South Sudan Reinstated for End of Month

The much anticipated visit by Pope Francis to the Congo and South Sudan is set to take place at the end of this month, according to the Vatican. 

The Holy See is slated to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo January 31 to February 3, after which he will spend two days in South Sudan’s capital city of Juba.

The pope had previously been expected to arrive the first week of July in 2022. That trip was postponed as Pope Francis was dealing with complications from knee problems.

The pope has long expressed a desire to travel to the predominantly Christian nation of South Sudan, but ongoing instability in the nation had complicated efforts. At a prayer service in St. Peter’s Square in December, Pope Francis called for the violent clashes to stop and requested prayers of reconciliation. He also appealed to the people to show respect for civilians.

While in South Sudan, the pope is expected to meet with internally displaced people and participate in a prayer service at Juba’s John Garang Mausoleum, where he will also celebrate Sunday Mass before leaving the country for his return to the Vatican.

Many in the region described the anticipated visit as “a dream come true.” Pope Francis expressed his hope to “awaken faith in those who do not have it, and strengthen the joy of those who do.” 

Read the full article.

School Continues Blazing Trails for Girls’ Education

Helping Women Lift Up their Country’s Future

See the complete story as reported by EWTN here:

“In the future women will do great things,” is the founding motto of Loreto Secondary School for Girls – a school unique in South Sudan in its quest to overcome cultural ideas that girls don’t need education.

The school is also remarkable for its success in pioneering steps to turn the tide. Said Sister Orla Treacy who directs the Loreto Schools, “At first it was difficult to get any girls to come to the school. Today there are 400 girls fighting for 100 openings every year.

Loreto Sister Orla Treacy is principal of the Loreto Girls’ Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan. The school is run by the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary–the Loreto Sisters–of Ireland.

Against the Odds

Historically, only 30 percent of girls in this country attend primary school, and just a scant two to three percent of those go on to secondary school.

The stigma is deeply rooted in the tradition that daughters are exchanged for cows in marriage. Cows are wealth to South Sudanese families, needed not just for survival but also for brothers to exchange for brides. Asking an impoverished family to delay their daughter’s marriage for up to 8 years to attend high school and university is a significant sacrifice.

A girl studies in class at the Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan.

But Loreto’s girls are taking the lead in demonstrating to their families and nation it’s a worthwhile investment. Sister Orla tells how the first group of female graduates are now working, earning, and giving back to their families. And living the example to others that it’s worth the wait.

Their determination and progress despite incredible odds is highlighted in this news feature story by Colm Flynn of ETWN. Watch the compelling full story in this video.

Last month a representative from the Vatican visited Loreto Secondary School. The girls performed a traditional dance for their guest, and the head girl spoke for the occasion. Pope Francis’ representative, Msgr. Ionut Paul Strejac, encouraged the girls to continue their efforts to lead in their nation for the betterment of its future.

Two alumni who just completed their degrees in education returned last month to serve at Loreto Schools – a significant event in a nation that sorely needs more teachers, and an illustration of Loreto’s work coming full circle to bring back educated young adults, who then teach others and lift up their country.

Students work together on an experiment in the chemistry lab at the Loreto Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan.

Promoting Peace

The school is also a promoter of peace, bringing together students from all tribes and backgrounds. Here they learn to see themselves as one people with a unified bond as South Sudanese. The school’s Peace Club recently did an outreach at a local hospital, where they visited patients, served snacks, helped with cleaning the facility, and performed a peace presentation.

The primary school, a co-ed program, now has over 1300 students in attendance. Afternoon classes are provided for older students who couldn’t attend school earlier in their lives. Parents who never had the chance for education are now starting to attend the classes, too.

Go here to learn more about the transformative work of Loreto Schools.