The United Nations has called it “the most terrible” war in the world today -- yet its victims are all but forgotten. But not by the Salesians. Since 2013, when civil war erupted in the world’s newest country, our Salesian missionaries have witnessed and continue to assist the men, women and children trapped in the violence of South Sudan.
Triggered by a political power struggle that split ethnic lines, this brutal and bloody conflict has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Too many of them were innocent civilians lost in massacres classified as war crimes by Human Rights Watch. More than three million people remain displaced from their homes, and, according to the United Nations, almost as many face acute food insecurity.
In the days, weeks and months following the war’s initial outbreak, our Salesian missionaries offered assistance and comfort to as many victims as they could. In Gumbo, just outside the capital city of Juba, for example, missionaries hosted more than 400 people in desperate need of safe shelter, food, water, and medical attention. Other Salesian missionaries traveled into dangerous situations to deliver emergency aid to villagers too afraid, or too injured, to flee.
The situation remains volatile today. This is why Salesian missionaries in Gumbo continue to shelter 3,000 internal refugees, mostly women and children.
“They have lost everything,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “They watched their husbands and fathers be tortured and killed. They lived in constant fear for their own safety as they ran, under cover of night, away from unspeakable brutalities. Even if peace prevails,” he continues, “many of them are wary of, or have no real way to, return home. Their need for assistance will persist into the near term at the very least -- and possibly much longer.”
Father David Tullimelli, who coordinates humanitarian aid at the Gumbo center, recently re-instituted food assistance for its residents. For now, he relies on international organizations to donate the daily meals, but he and his colleagues plan to develop agricultural projects. Already, missionaries have dug wells for drinking water and irrigation.
In addition to shelter and meals, the Salesian community has also built preschool and primary schools for children staying in the camp.
“This is especially important, as the longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return,” says Fr. Mark. “And we know that ignorance can breed intolerance and fear. By providing educational continuity, Salesians in South Sudan are helping to ensure the country can move forward.”
In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are highlighting those works of corporal and spiritual mercy that -- for more than 160 years -- have been woven throughout the fabric of our service to the poor. Sheltering the homeless is one such example. Through the kindness of our friends, we are able to bring these signs of God’s love to those in need.