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.