By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis has sent his condolences after a violent attack on a group of Catholic religious sisters and others in South Sudan left five dead on Monday.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the brutal attack on a group of Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” the Aug. 17 message said.
A road ambush along a highway in South Sudan Aug. 16 resulted in the deaths of five people, including Catholic nuns, Sr. Mary Daniel Abud and Sr. Regina Roba.
The two were among a group of seven Catholic sisters traveling in a bus to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, from Assumption of Our Lady Parish in the city of Nimule, about 120 miles to the south.
The sisters had been in Nimule to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish on Aug. 15, Sr. Christine John Amaa told CNA’s partner agency, ACI Africa.
In an Aug. 16 email, Amaa said Assumption of Our Lady Parish was also where the slain sisters’ religious order, the Congregation of Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was founded.
Pope Francis’ message said he “offers heartfelt condolences” to the families and religious community of the sisters who died from “this senseless act of violence.”
“Trusting that their sacrifice will advance the cause of peace, reconciliation and security in the region, His Holiness prays for their eternal rest and the comfort of those who grieve their loss,” the telegram, signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said.
The message closed by invoking the Lord’s consolation and peace on those attending the funeral of the sisters.
The pope also imparted his apostolic blessing.
Sr. Amaa told ACI Africa that the sisters were “killed in cold blood” after being ambushed by unknown gunmen while travelling along Juba-Nimule Road, a highway linking South Sudan and Uganda.
The seven sisters and others travelling with them “tried to flee from the scene and hid in various bushes around,” she said in an email. “The gunmen went to where Sr. Mary Daniel was lying down and shot her.”
In another email, Sr. Bakhita K. Francis told ACI Africa that “the attackers followed the Sisters to the bush and shot Sr. Regina on her back as she was running and Sr. Antonietta managed to escape. Sr. Regina was found alive but died in the hospital in Juba.”
Sr. Francis added that Sr. Mary Daniel Abud and a driver “died instantly” from gunshots.
Eye Radio reported that in addition to the two sisters, a male driver and another man had been killed in the attack. A man driving a Boda Boda motorcycle taxi was also killed after he was hit by a speeding truck “fleeing from the attack,” according to the South Sudanese radio’s report.
The Archdiocese of Juba is observing a four-day closure of its Catholic schools, universities, and seminaries Aug. 17-20 in mourning for the deaths of the two nuns.
The archdiocese is also celebrating Mass every day for the murdered religious sisters, who were both from South Sudan.
Sr. Abud was the superior general of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from 2006-2018. At the time of her death, she was head teacher at the Usratuna school in Juba.
Sr. Roba was a tutor and administrator at the Catholic Health Training Institute in South Sudan’s Wau Diocese.
In an Aug. 17 statement, South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit said the violent attack and the deaths of five people was the responsibility of “Holdout Groups” and stated that “the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity condemns this act of terror with the strongest terms possible.”
“The fact that Sisters Mary Abud and Regina Roba were coming from the celebration of an important milestone of Christianity in our country: the centenary celebration of the [Assumption of Our Lady] Loa Parish did matter to these criminals,” Kiir said.
President Kiir also sent his condolences for the death of the Catholic sisters to the local Catholic community.
“While we mourn the departed, let us equally pray that God gives us the strength we need to overcome this traumatic experience,” he said. “Let us also pray for the Church leadership to remain strong despite the shocking experience of this tragedy.”
In his statement, Kiir said the murder on Aug. 16 demonstrates the lack of commitment to peace on the part of non-signatories to the September 2018 Peace Agreement, and added that his government may have to “reconsider its position on the ongoing Sant’Egidio led Rome Initiative.”
“Our pursuit of an inclusive peace should never be taken for a weakness and used as a window to kill the innocent,” he stated.
Last month, leadership of Catholic community Sant’Egidio hosted a four-day meeting between South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU), the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance-South Sudan United Front/Army (SSOMA SSUF/A) and the SSOMA-Real Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SSOMA Real SPLM).
At the end of the July 15-18 meeting, held in the presence of observers from the international community, South Sudan’s warring parties signed two documents, including one in which they expressed their commitment to attending other meetings to be held in Rome in September, October, and November 2021.
According to the Community of Sant’Egidio, international observers and mediators hope the upcoming Rome meetings will lead to a final peace agreement between parties in the South Sudan conflict.