South Sudan                                                                                                                 03.06.2015

The situation in South Sudan is becoming increasingly critical. A number of international organisations have advised the religious sisters here to leave the country. But though they are constantly under threat, they are staying by the side of the people.

By Eva-Maria Kolmann

The two religious sisters had a lucky escape amidst all the misfortune. They had only just left the refugee camp when there was a salvo of shooting. The man who was accompanying them was hit directly and died instantly. The sisters’ habits were covered in blood. Some rebels had been hiding behind a rock and had fired on them with machine guns. Evidently, the war is raging right outside the gates of the refugee camp in Juba. There are 28,000 families who have sought refuge here. The sisters of the congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate regularly visit the sick and needy here.

Most of the sisters are still young. Their average age is just 28 years. Most of them are from India, where their congregation was founded. For many of them it is the first time in their lives that they have been confronted with machine guns, military vehicles and the noise of the bombings. Many of them have had to confront the violence at first hand. Sister Maya was just washing some items of clothing in the convent, when armed men burst into the room. One of them held a gun to her chin while another held a knife to her throat. They dragged the young sister into the dining room, where three other sisters were sitting reading. Meanwhile, the other men had forced their way into the house and were holding the other sisters, with guns to their heads. “If you scream, we’ll kill you!”, they threatened. The sisters were locked together in a room with a man standing guard over them. Meanwhile, the other four men systematically looted the house. For almost half an hour they went through every room, stealing whatever they could carry away and destroying the rest. Then they disappeared. Sister Vijii said afterwards, “I believe it was a deliberate campaign of intimidation. They want us to go away from here!”

Father Albert Amal Raj of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, the male branch of the same congregation, has also been repeatedly threatened. “When we go out of the house in the morning, we do not know if we will come home alive that evening”, says this Indian priest. On one occasion his car was stopped on the road by 30 policemen, who immediately flipped off the safety catches on their guns. The two priests and two religious sisters in the car were forced to get out. One of the policemen threatened Father Albert with his machine gun and struck him in the face. “They thought our car was a rebel vehicle. Many of them also believe that foreign organisations are supporting the rebels and providing them with weapons and other support. When the policemen realised that I was a priest, he apologised to me. That is why I now always wear a large cross, very visibly on a chain, so that they can see that I’m a priest.”

The Fathers work above all in the remotest regions, where the villages can often be reached only on foot. But they also run schools. They have found that the children generally know about nothing else but war. “Many of the children play only games about war. They pretend they have weapons and shoot at each other. If we ask our pupils what they want to do when they grow up, they often answer, “We want to become policemen, so that we can shoot and kill people”. They know nothing else but violence. Many of them have actually witnessed their own family members being killed. Human life is worth very little here. The missionaries are trying to teach the children to cherish life, to respect others and to take responsibility for their own lives, for society and for a peaceful future.

The sisters are also trying to help people who still bear the trauma from the last war – which lasted more than 22 years, cost over 2 million lives and left many millions more homeless. So many people were forced to see their husbands, wives, children, parents and siblings brutally murdered, while others lost limbs and many, many more were left utterly destitute. “They are living in constant tension and fear; they suffer from psychological problems and are deeply traumatised. Many of them no longer behave normally. Some have lost all hope. Countless numbers of them fled for their lives, carrying nothing but plastic bags. Now they have nothing. Many of them are asking themselves “Why did God create us, why were we born, if only to suffer so much?” says Sister Vijii.

The sisters go out to these people, and for many of them it is the first time they have ever had the feeling that someone is actually listening to them and being there for them. Then little miracles often seem to happen. “One woman had lost seven members of her family. All of them had been killed in front of her own eyes. She was as though frozen, and no longer spoke to anyone. The sisters began to care for her. One day she began to cry and could not stop. She wept for hours – and then she began to speak. Today she herself is helping the other people in the refugee camp. She goes from tent to tent and prays with the people”, Sister Vijii recalls.

Sister Vijii is not afraid for her own life, even though she can hear the shootings and bombings every day. “Some organisations have advised us to move away from here. It is too dangerous here, they tell us, and there will never be peace. But we sisters have come here to share the sufferings of the people and so, as long as there are still people here, we too will stay.”


Over the past three years ACN has given a total of 138,700 Euros in support of the work of the male and female branches of this congregation in South Sudan – including help for the purchase of a vehicle, for the construction of a church and parish house, for the training of 21 young religious and for a project entitled “Healing the Healers” – through which the sisters who are helping and supporting the trauma victims are themselves given help and support and ongoing formation. And we have also supported the ongoing spiritual formation of the priests. At the present time we are helping for the construction of a parish house for the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate in the parish of Bar Sharki, in the diocese of Wau, with a contribution of 80,000 Euros