Friday, November 25, 2011

A busy fall and a bishop's visit to Saint Teresa Parish in South Sudan

Saint Teresa Parish-Nyamlell
Comboni Missionaries-South Sudan
P.O. Box 21102
Nairobi, Kenya

Thanksgiving Day, USA
November 24, 2011

Dear Relatives and Friends,

Last Saturday I was out and left the car and walked to the chapel where I was going. I walked in sandals without socks. I found only a few children and celebrated my first Mass of Christ the KING. Why just a few children? Well the town which is nearby had a MARKET DAY which is the most important day of the week. Well, Sunday I had a lot more luck of big congregations and baptisms and even an adult confirmation and his first holy communion.

On Monday I was okay and did all my duties but Tuesday I was in pain and could only walk so slowly that the snails and tortoises were all passing me up. I did all my work and had everyone laughing behind me and asking if I had arthritis, which I don’t, and had more than a full day when I just went into bed after dark. It was a blister that had infected the right foot and made movement so difficult but on Wednesday night it started to bleed and slowing it is becoming just fine.

The OLSH Sisters and the Kenyan teacher extended their two week break to a four week one in leaving in mid August and returned on September 10th. So I had to send several classes home for extra holidays or until September 12th. Yet I had all my classes with class 8. I had all my RCIA work as usual and the weekend trips for pastoral work. And we made a big plan for an Episcopal visit to the parish and I was able to build up some enthusiasm for it. The highlight was to be the blessings of the Saint Dennis Church in Ariath and Comboni Day in Nyamlell. Well, it did not work out as planned.

It was to start on October 7th, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. I received a letter from the bishop that all was going as planned. Then an email on the 5th said the opposite. I called and called and got nowhere at all and so I knew that I had to do it all myself, which is the story of my Comboni missionary life. So in such a bind I closed class 8 for the day and gave the keys to another teacher, said a Mass for the Sisters and went with the head catechist, who is also in class 8, to Udhom to tell them that there was no bishop coming but I would do what I could and had a plan to do confessions and the Rosary and Litany and then Mass with the pictures of the life of Comboni and the anointing of the sick and infant baptism and the catechists would have their meeting and Marko would write everything down and we would send it all to the bishop as soon as possible. We would also break ground for the new church.

They were glad that I had come and accepted my plan and so I was the whole day there and had trouble because I had to do the baptisms during the parish catechist meeting and there are always people making confusion and no catechist to help me in keeping order and my nerves were rattled.

They have to be tested to see if at least one of the parents is a Baptized Catholic and knows the Apostle Creed in whatever language. This takes time when there are sixty babies. Then there was a threat of rain but it all got done. There we want to build another permanent church -- Saint Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Mary will be for both my mother and that wonderful mother Jesus shared with us. Comboni dedicated Sudan to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the 1800’s and this will be the first church dedicated to her in the South Sudan. Dad was such a help to get the church done in Ariath and now we need even more help to do the one in Udhom, which is also right on the railway. It will be tough but let us try with the help of the blessed mother and the other Saints that we knew.

We drove back to Nyamlell and found a wonderful meal prepared by the youth for the bishop but no bishop so I called the Sisters and we ate it all. On Saturday Marko and two Sisters went with me to Wedwil, which is right on the railway too, and we did as we did in Udhom the day before and had no bishop but we did have a marriage and a baptism and confirmation. We also named the new church there as the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. The people had built the walls and we had only to make pillars and then the roof. More on that later.

There was a youth meeting planned and Marko did it and went back to Nyamlell for the Sunday service. The Sisters and I went to spend the night in Ariath where there was a huge number of people waiting and more came after and we had a vigil and evening prayers and rest with mosquito nets as the mosquitoes were really biting. Many chapels came and I had a plan of work for Sunday and an official opening of that Church on the feast of Dennis himself and I did some testing for confirmation and only one passed. Then lo and behold, the bishop came and brought the altar servers from Nyamlell and Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak had slept and then that morning had driven to Ariath. I never mentioned my plan to him and came with apologies for missing the first two days and he blessed that church and administered one confirmation and had a wonderful Mass and homily and had a meeting with the authorities of the Aweil North County and I did a few baptisms. After the celebration we drove back to Nyamlell. There I had tested 55 children on October 6th evening and 20 passed and were confirmed on Comboni Day with a big solemn Mass outside under the trees with a big crowd. It was huge. After the Mass we had our schools annual celebration of Comboni and in the afternoon we went to see New Life Ministry, which is a Protestant school here for orphans. They received the bishop very well.

Then I took the bishop to some of the NGOs here and had supper with the sisters and pastoral council. On the 16th the bishop went with Marko to Marial Baai with another Comboni day there too and a meeting with the teachers of our Catholic schools in the parish. I heard that it was another huge crowd. Even the bishop told me that massive number of youth was very impressive. I hosted everyone for supper and no one died. He left the next day.

I had such a strong presence of my father in Ariath and I am hoping to have Mother’s help in Udhom. I shall let you know.

November 5th was another day as I went with the Sister to Wedwil to unofficially bless the church in Wedwil and name it and let it be open as a place of worship. We had a small crowd but I had not promoted it at all and the bishop will come again to bless when I get the courage to invite him again. It is named Gabriel for the prayer leader there who did most of the work and community animation to build that church and Raphael for Father Raphael Riel Col who I lived with for four years in Mapuordit, and Michael for my classmate Father Miguel Istuiriz Agudo, who everyone loved. We were ordained together as deacons in Granada, Spain, and he had worked in Sudan and was killed in Spain 20 years before by a hit and run on the anniversary of the day we blessed the Ariath church. May the Archangels help that community and us too.

On the 15th of this a month Laurence moved to Udhom to start that new project and I am trying to finish out this year and then Christmas, etc. I was there and ended the liturgical year and all the committed visits of the chapels for this Mass year. And as you already know when we end something there is nothing left to do but to begin something else. I am thankful for it all and for you and your help in all its forms.

Thankfully in Christ Jesus,

Father Michael Barton, MCCJ

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bishop of Wau's October visit to St. Teresa Parish

Saint Teresa Parish

Nyamlell, (Aweil West County)

NBG State

Republic of the South Sudan.

September 12, 2011


Dear Head Catechist,

We shall have our meeting for head catechists and part-time catechists on Friday September 30th, 2011. You must bring a written report on all the Sunday offerings and other important activities of your area. If you don’t bring with you a written report which you can read to all of us at the meeting no payment will be made. Please do this for this and all of our future meetings. Thank you for this and all your chapel and center work. The meeting should start at 3:00 pm.

The other big news which I want to announce is the pastoral visit of the Bishop of Wau to our parish and just some of the activities planned. The Most Reverend Rudolph Deng Majakwill visit:

Udhom Chapel and Center on October 7th, 2011. Cat, Marko Deng Adel will be there to welcome him in my name. Let the head catechist of Udhom be there waiting and not arriving after everyone else as was done last year to the late Bishop Mazzolari. The Mass of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary can begin at around 11:00 am and followed by a meeting of the bishop with all the catechists and prayer leaders so we hear from our main shepherd in our work of the church and we can present the problems that we face both physical and spiritual. This day is for Udhom Center and the day of the catechists and their bishop. Marko will then bring the bishop to sleep in Nyamlell.

Wetwil Chapel and Center will be visited on October 8th which is Saturday. The work of the chapel will be blessed and the sacrament of reconciliation will be available and Mass will follow at around 11:00 am. This day is for the youth. There will be a meeting held between Bishop Rudolph and the youth after Mass. I shall also be present. This is our youth day with the bishop. From Wetwil we shall move to Ariath where we shall spend the night.

The new church of Saint Dennis will be blessed in Saint Rebecca Center in Ariath (ANC) on Sunday October 9th, 2011. He will meet the authorities of Aweil North County after Mass. This is the second permanent Catholic Church in Aweil North, both in our parish. Hopefully there will be some entertainment prepared but for that we depend on those of Ariath. Reconciliation and Baptisms will be available that day too and after this we shall return to spend the night in Nyamlell.

The bishop will celebrate two Comboni Days, one here in Nyamlell on October 10th, 2011, and another the next day in Marial Baai. Here the Mass will be at 10:00 and before it will be the sacrament of reconciliation and during Mass will be baptisms of some infants. The bishop will, of course, preside at the Eucharist on Comboni Day in Nyamlell. As many who can should try to be here for Comboni and Bishop Deng. Entertainment will be in the hands of the pupils and teachers of Comboni Nyamlell- thii. At 4:00 pm we shall have a courtesy visit to New Life Ministry and at 5:00 we shall continue to South Sudan Hotel to visit the authorities of Aweil West County. At 7:00 there will be rosary and benediction in the parish church and afterwards prize giving. The bishop will sleep in Nyamlell.

October 11th, 2011, Marko will accompany the Bishop to Marial Baai by road or if not possible by boat for Mass and entertainment and afterward the bishop will meet with the teachers of the Catholic schools in our parish. This will be the day of teachers to meet their bishop. He will return to Nyamlell to spend his final night and will return to Wau the next day. We put this entire visit in the hands of God and May Saint Daniel Comboni continue to intercede for us and Our Lady is with us all in good times and bad.

Father Michael D. Barton, MCCJ.

Parish Priest.

Another busy year for Comboni missionary priest and parish

Saint Teresa Parish

Comboni Missionaries

Nyamlell (Aweil West)

Northern Bahr el Ghazal State

Republic of the South Sudan

September 6, 2011

Comboni Missionaries

P.O. Box 21102

Nairobi, Kenya.

Dear Friends, Relatives and benefactors,

I have thought to write you for such a long time and forced myself to sit down and write.

But where do I start? I told you about my dry season activities and the going to Juba for Santo’s ordination as the helper bishop of Juba and then all the pastoral work. It was a lot of travel and sleeping out and preaching and celebrating all the sacraments. I like the contrast of being out of school for three months and being full time into pastoral work for the whole parish and no fear of rain or getting stuck in the mud or a pool. But then when the school year starts it is another contrast to be able to sleep in my own bed for a school week of five days and to have my supper at the dinner table and warm.

From the end of December to the beginning of April I was in Nyamlell only for three Sundays and the rest in the centers and their chapels. This year my goal is to cover the whole parish twice as usual but once in the dry and the second time in the wet season. In the dry season I started just before Christmas and did not finish until March 9th. True, two weeks of those I was away in Juba for that remarkable event of an Episcopal ordination, but the rest was out in the 90 some chapels, and many of those days were in two chapels in one day. I was always tired at night and had some good sleep. Still in the dry season and before the school started I got to three complete centers for a second time.

On March 31 we celebrated a big Mass with all our catechists for the third anniversary of the death of Father Raymond Pox. We prayed and remembered and celebrated him as a priest and as a missionary. That is the day I call "planning day: as I plan the year with the sisters and for three months with the catechists, They come three months thereafter to plan for the next three month period; I schedule all my pastoral visits in those meetings,

On April 1st the school year started. The OLSH Sisters just had returned to South Sudan after being away for almost four months, and generously offered to teach in the school for this school year. So we began.

Pastorally as I would be teaching full time throughout the year I would be out two weekends and the next I would be here in Nyamlell for the parish church and two chapels of returnees who have come back from Northern Sudan and the monthly Eucharist in the hospital. So the other weekends I would be out to visit at least three chapels. In this way I can fulfill my goals of visiting the outstations and caring for the parish center too.

In mid February a faithful friend and builder came from Kenya to help me build another church -- this one named Saint Dennis, a saint who has given his name to many Bartons and even a few Sullivans. This is the third new church in the parish that has been constructed while I have been here and the repair of the parish church all was done by Laurence Makabuya, with me being the yeller and he the worker.

We have built this chapel in Ariath in Aweil North County which is right on the railway and has a rail station. So much has been done but none of it could have been done without you and Laurence. I said the first Mass in it on the late afternoon of the Marian feast of the Assumption and it will be blessed by the bishop of Wau on October 9th, the day of Saint Dennis. It is beautiful in my eyes and heart.

Since we were transferred from the diocese of Rumbek back to the diocese that we really belonged to, which is Wau, we have been in a very unsure place because we need help from the diocese and their permission and support in all that we do. I have heard very little from them. I waited for months to hear from the authorities of the diocese about what to do about the High School as the diocese of Rumbek helped me with two Kenyan teachers in 2010 and in 2009, 2008, and 2007. So now what to do with this silent diocese and our future of the high school?

The sisters have made it abundantly clear that they did not want to be in Nyamlell and so I had to make the very tough decision of closing Sacred Heart High School. We sent some boys to the minor seminary in Mapuordit and the others went to places like Marial Baai, Wau and Aweil, Town, Juba and Uganda. I am convinced that it was a good school but untenable in the present situation. So sorry about that but I did not see any other solutions. Better to make the primary school as good as it can be.

On April 5th after school and the RCIA group that I run, Valentino Achak Deng with some other Sudanese lost boys, now American citizens, came to say hello. Valentino has a very large Senior Secondary School in Marial Baai, his hometown, and I told them that the day was my birthday #63 done and completed. The next day he came back to sing the birthday song and he brought me his book, “What’s the What?”, and other very valuable books. Well, he is an international figure and told me that he had brought George Clooney to visit me and Nyamlell in March but of course I was out doing my priestly duties in the out stations. Can you imagine George in Nyamlell?

Well since then I read an article in TIME and even a picture of George in Marial Baai. So I feel sure that Valentino was telling the truth. Well, another month passed before I got time to read his book and then I enjoyed it so much. It has many insights in the life of the Dinka and the Sudan, and yes, there are even insights into the American way of doing things. It was on the best seller list and translated into other languages and now I can understand why.

Soon after that I got news from out of the blue that the diocese was going to give one Kenyan teacher for the school year of 2011. Why didn’t they tell me before that there was still a chance of them helping us? I was told that in 2010 they would help and that was that, and now we depended completely on Wau. Well, the teacher came and we opened another class one three class ones and one stream of each class after that with an enrollment of 351 here in our Comboni Nyamlell and another 346 in our Marial Baai Comboni and 103 in our Makwei Comboni.

In March the results of the state exam came out and we did not take first place as in the previous two years; the highest we got this year but it was for last year was #9 and #14 out of 2,544 candidates of the primary leaving certificate for Northern Bahr el Ghazal State. First place went to our sister parish, the Comboni School in Gordhim, which is run by the Apostles of Jesus. It was their first time ever and I told some teachers,”Well at least it is still in the family.” I gave it my all but many other teachers did not. We will see what happens this year.

You know that South Sudan has become independent and it was a wonderful and happy July 9th. I said the opening prayer at the ceremony here in Nyamlell. We had prayed for so long for this that on July 8th the schools gathered here and joyfully competed with each other in expressing our joy with a song, marching, poem, dancing and singing the new national anthem ,and finally a football competition. The Sudanese did a great job in spiritual preparation for the referendum and then for independence. For sure that is why is was so peaceful. Yet Khartoum is not happy and has cut off all food stuffs and fuel from coming and everything has doubled and tripled in price. I am just fine but the poor common Joe or rather Deng must really be suffering. Diesel is $4 a liter. Something has to give but no one that I know is sad to see the back of the Arab. Sudan will never be the same. Soda was two Sudanese pounds but is now five yet beer, which never came from the North but from Uganda, is still just six pounds.

In May the Comboni provincial came for a visit. He is brand new. This is my tenth year in Nyamlell and this is only the second time the South Sudan has come for a look. He seems to be a fine young man.

On July 16 as I was preparing to go on safari to say Mass outside, I got a phone call to tell me my friend Bishop Caesar Mazzolari of Rumbek had fallen down dead while he was saying Mass in his cathedral in Rumbek town. He was 74. I knew him since the year that he had been ordained a priest, as his first assignment was to be a spiritual director at Sacred Heart Seminary in Cincinnati. I entered that seminary that very year this month in 1962. He followed me to Sudan and then became provincial and then bishop here but had worked many years in the USA and as he left the States to work in Africa the Cincinnati Catholic paper headlined, “HAIL CAESAR’’. He had been a mentor all these forty nine years. He was at Bishop Santo's ordination and after Santo had publicly called me his father, I told Caesar that if I was his father then Caesar was his grandfather. I knew right away how much Caesar appreciated that remark and he smiled and even laughed. I could never bring myself to call him any of his many titles and when we argued or joked it was always Caesar and Mike.

I had malaria once and the same day got the car terribly stuck in the bush and with help from a lot of people I got better and got out.

You know I am the only priest here and on Sunday I had three Masses and two sets of baptisms; in one 12 babies and in the other 15 babies were sanctified by water and oil and in the third hospital Mass 20 were anointed with the oil of the sick. Well, after the second chapel one man told me, “Hey, you need help!” Boy, do I need help! Yet I do have a lot. Here are some examples, the Eucharistic Ministers were trained in April by others and we may have more Eucharistic centers in all the South Sudan parishes. Then in July another workshop was planned and this for all the song leaders all over the parish. I just got the food and other things needed. And others introduced the new Dinka hymnal for 2011. I went out to chapels. I have a boy of class eight who leads the prayer and he distributes Holy Communion and six other school boys who teach catechism to the lower primary children and I run the RCIA for the more mature. The boy’s name is Marko but his classmates call him BISHOP. I depend on him so much. God has always put such people in my surroundings and I praise him for that. We also completely are dependent on so many prayer leaders and chopel leaders and catechists.

After the Assumption I had Laurence go to Wetwil to put a roof on a church. The Christians there had put up the walls as a self help project and we have the roof to do and will set us back maybe $15,000 but I am so happy the people are doing things on their own a bit anyway. Remember, it is so expensive at the moment. I went to Wau for a workshop for head teachers and to rest too. I saw Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak, who will come in October and will visit five centers here for the Saint Dennis Church blessing in Ariath and Comboni Day here in Nyamlell and then another one in Marial Baai. Plus visits to Udhom and Wetwil.

Well I did not know how to begin and now I don’t know how to end. Yes I do, may Almighty God bless you and protect you from all harm.
Yours in the Heart of Jesus the Lord,

Father Michael D. Barton, MCCJ.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Independence at last!

A note from Father Michael Barton as South Sudan celebrates its independence day:

Today we had an attempt to celebrate the South Sudan's independence on a school level and invited all the five neighboring schools to come and celebrate here by having the class one compete in marching, then the class two's did the same and the class three did the national anthem new to all of us. The class four had a soccer competition
and the six's did a dancing competition, whereas the seven did a poem competition (very poor) and the eights joined in more of the same but in song and there were no fights but lots of joy and expectation about tomorrow.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter 2011 from Nyamlell

April 8, 2011

I have returned to Nyamlell to get the school up and going again. I celebrated Mass here only on December 26th and February 13th and last Sunday on April 3rd and all the rest of the time has been out in the chapels and many days it was two chapels in one day. So I have been totally a parish priest and a shepherd during this dry season. LOTS AND LOTS OF SACRAMENTAL WORK. All Good.

I was in Juba for Bishop Santo and then visited many of my old places of evangelization and got back here and did more of the same. I took a bus only once and the seat broke off in front of me as we rode along the rough South Sudan roads.
I ended my pastoral visit on March 30 and on the 31st had a Mass for Father Pax on his grave with all our catechists in attendance.

On April 1st I had registration for the school and we closed Sacred Heart High School for lack of teachers and will keep open Comboni Primary. with the sisters and myself teaching a lot of classes. I got the older pupils to help me keep order and they were great. They got people in lines and read the rules and regulations and make them sign their names and signatures that they would obey. William was really great and telling them to be on time Monday and to bring brooms for cleaning the school compound. BUT once in a while I would hear him say to the really cute girls sign your name and write your telephone number. Only a year of telephone here and already the real reason to have one is well understood.

Happy Easter.

Father Michael Barton

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A busy time of pastoral work and travel

Saint Teresa Parish-Nyamlell (AWC) South Sudan
P. O. Box 21102, Nairobi, Kenya. 00505

February 24, 2011.

Dear friends,

Many greetings for 2011. I am in Juba for the Episcopal ordination of a young man who I had sent to the Seminary and became a priest and is now an auxiliary bishop of his home Archdiocese of Juba. More on that later in this letter. I am also making my annual spiritual retreat while I am here in this hot capital of the Southern Sudan. On the 28th of February I shall head back to Nyamlell visiting Mapuordit as I go.

In September I was in Wau for some R and R and went back to Nyamlell to get the work up and going again after the semester break. The government closed their schools on October 7th and they had been opened only June 1st due to the fraudulent elections. Our Comboni schools began April 1 and went all the way to Christmas; one teacher left to work for the referendum registration and the referendum itself. The commitment of the teachers leaves so much to be desired.

This year we had a huge flood starting in October and many parts of the road were washed away so I gave the motor for the boat which Cordaid had given me to Concern International with the agreement that I could use it two weekends a year for pastoral work. So during the flood I went by bicycle and two weekends by boat I was let off in one location and then walked through miles of water and then on Sunday more of the same to get picked up in another location all in order to visit two or three chapels. Because of this wet activity I got a terrible lung infection which disturbed me a lot for a month as I could not get proper care. When I did I got better right away. I pushed myself to work as usual but it was tough going. I missed only three classes and they were the afternoon classes out of my daily seven.

Also in October there was bombing and military operation near the border due to some spill over from Darfur. These rumors scared the Indonesian Sisters but the schools went on well as well as did the pastoral work. Sister Jeviana organized a retreat for the youth and a Father came from Gordhim parish to preach it. She also led a day of prayer for the altar servers. I led a day of recollection for the class 8 of 2010. A diocesan priest helped me for November and December as he was sent by the bishop of Wau and has already gone to Nairobi for a renewal course.

The major superior of the sisters sent word that she had looked at the map and read an article concerning the referendum. So the Sisters were pulled out on December 13. One of the sisters, who was pastoral, was transferred to Cameroon and will not come back which is very sad. The other three Sisters went to Nairobi and at some point were able to go on to South Africa and may return to South Sudan in late March, which I heard from other sources. We closed the schools in Nyamlell on Dec 26 and in Makwei on Dec. 27 and in Marial Baai on January 1. I was out on pastoral visits to chapels and centers beginning on Dec 24 up to February 18; I was only back in Nyamlell for 2 Masses in all this time. All the rest of the time I was in the chapels and centers and on some days even two chapels - always with confessions, Mass and baptisms and some days confirmations and blessing of marriages. Before this begins I have to do the testing and before that to pray and prepare myself in a hut or under a tree.

From January 1, 2010 up to December 31 of the same year we had 1,961 baptisms, 202 confirmations, 13 matrimonies, 1,022 anointing of the sick, 844 reconciliations, 27,000 Holy Communions given out, 539 Masses offered mostly without stipend, and 5 Christian burials celebrated.

On the very day the sisters left, we had the annual catechists’ workshop by a diocesan team from Wau; also from the 15th to the 17th we had our final examinations and the students mostly did well.

I was out on pastoral visits during the referendum, which was so very peaceful. I had Mass next to some polling stations, no disturbances or intimidations at all and the result is for independence and separation from the North. For me no school work but only bush work. The headlights on the Toyota were out, so if I had to travel at night I had to use a flashlight with my arm outside and the other arm on the steering wheel. On my way to Juba I passed through Aweil and got the electrical problem fixed and even got a haircut to look better for the feast of Bishop Santo’s ordination. I got to Juba on Friday evening and on Saturday I went to Terekeka to see another place I had worked a bit. My little church is still there now surrounded by a school hall and new church and priest house with three priests there. Mostly done by Father Santo. I was very impressed and another young priest, Father Erkolano Lado Tombe, who I had baptized, showed me around and took me back to Juba. He was also going for the consecration too.

On the 20th I tried to walk to the Cathedral but I got lost and just make it in time. The president of the South Sudan was there and I took in everything so excited for three hours. At the end the new bishop called me out as his father and sender to the seminary and many other nice things and I was close to tears. In the evening singing and dancing and I was called on to give the opening prayer and was able to joke and pray at the same time for five minutes. The rest of the evening I mixed with priests, bishops and mostly lay people in joy.

Now I am on retreat for six days and then will go to Sacred Heart Parish in Kworijik-Luri for Bishop Santo’s homecoming. I served for nine years as the parish priest. Then on Monday I will take off for Nyamlell. Back to work. Maybe there will be another bishop for me to prepare in God’s plan or even just a few more good Christians is good enough.

Yours in the Sacred Heart,
Michael D. Barton, MCCJ.