Saturday, March 23, 2013

After a busy 11 years, Father Michael says goodbye to Nyamlell

Saint Josephine Bakihita Parish Mapuordit (Yirol West) Lakes State South Sudan. March 19, 2013, Feast of St. Joseph Dear Friends and Benefactors, and Relatives. In my last letter written in October of 2012, I told you about our celebration of Comboni Day. So that very day since we were all together for Comboni day I also announced the Year of Faith, which was to start the next day on the 11th. So many things were planned to happen and other things that were unplanned for also bound to happen and so why not take them all in faith? That month of October I had a good many problems with teachers leaving and then finding replacements and as usual I was privileged to do lots of weekend apostolate and weekday school work. I also feared running out of money that month but I didn’t and had just enough to pay all the workers. Then I told those who had my money in Wau to get it here pronto. Pronto for them meant December but somehow I got together enough to keep my nose above water for November too. Don’t ask me where it appeared from but it just did. In October and November the Dry Season began this year but still the River Lol was high so to get the bicycle across is easy to put it in a row boat and then I could get to the far off chapels. Some were six hours or eight hours one way by push the bike and that is what I used for most of October and half of November. On November 7th there arrived in Nyamllell four Indian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate all from the Indian state of Tamul Ladu. They had just arrived in South Sudan in May 2012 and are a very young congregation of about twenty years of existence and have twenty to thirty new priests every year. They also have a very large congregation of Sisters called Daughters of Mary Immaculate. They started in Juba and in Dinka Land in a place called Gongriel, where the government built a beautiful and big priest house. Two of the fathers went back to Gongriel and two remained in Nyamlell. One is two years a priest and the other finished his first year a priest on the same day that I completed 37 years of saying Mass. They started a three month transition period from me to the MMI taking over Nyamlell parish. They were just wonderful and so helpful in so many ways. My three months of transition were great to have a community and to have help was like a blood transfusion to a sick person. Before they came we had planned with the youth leaders of the parish to celebrate the Year of Faith and the coming of the new missionaries to the parish. I knew that they were coming since the bishop of Wau told me in May that he was giving the parish to the new Fathers. So we planned a day visit to each center to pray and reflect on the faith and to compete in games and have fun and to introduce and get to know and to meet the recently arrived missionaries, we did confessions, Mass and a Bible completion and then many other activities with soccer and volleyball and running and javelin throwing and more. The home center offered food and drink, and we would then go on to the next center and I admired how the youth took so much responsibility and were just great and appreciated by me and the young priests. We went to fifteen centers and returned to four of them for closing school years. This program started on December 8th and ended on January 6th. Also four more of them got Christmas visits. So more priests mean more pastoral work and chances for even better things and services. At the same time I was working in the late evenings on the 148 page Dinka prayer book which meant translations and typing and checking and rechecking the work and right when I had finished it I needed some Dinka elders who know not only English and Dinka but also the meaning of some theological terminology, and right when I needed him Mr. Kleto Akot showed up in Nyamlell and was just what I NEEDED as he was an ex Seminarian and even knew a good bit of Latin. He and I and some others went over the whole manuscript twice and after we finished he went and got his marriage blessed in the church and so it was a good experience for both of us. However the computer age has made this work both more difficult and easier. Why? Well I got the Dinka fonts from another Comboni who got them from the Summer Institute of Linguistics from somewhere in Texas. Well that helped me and a Pakistanian IC expert helped me download in two computers, mine and another of my helpers, but when we wanted to put this into a book form we gave it to a Canadian girl working for an NGO who did not have these fonts and her computer messed up everything and so we had to put in the pictures and then had to correct the mess which was really a mess. Then we sent it hard copy to the Bishop of Wau who gave us the INPRIMATUR. Then we sent a hard copy to the Don Bosco Printing Press in Wau and they said that they needed a soft copy to make the estimate of cost, and the Combonis in USA agreed to fund up to $5000 (which was not enough for the 5000 copies, but a very good jump start which I could easily complete through other sources) and I explained the potential font problem and they said that they were professionals and had those fonts. So I got back the finished product but only checked it in January and it was another mess of changing Dinka letters to other non-readable ones. So I let it go until all the other work of the school and parish was over and transfer had been complete which was in February. We had December exams both normal ones for everyone and then internal ones and state ones for the Class Eight Leavers who then get a primary leaving certificate so as to go to high school, also known as Senior Secondary School. I heard it announced on Miraya Radio of the United Nations that Nyamlell Primary took first place and New Life also in Nyamlell took second place and that Comboni Nyamlell took third place. All in the same county and from the same little town was something very special for me because many of the teachers in Nyamlell New Life are formal students of mine. On December 28 we had 124 adult baptisms and confirmations and First Communions and then in the afternoon we gave out the promotion certificates and closed the school year in Nyamlell and on the 29th of December to those of Makuei and on January 1st we did the same in Marial Baai and on December 30 we had the same in Ariath. There were the sacraments of initiation and the certificates in all four of these places that have Comboni School. I then gathered the books and cleaned the stores and gave the keys to the new missionaries who are called Father Thadeus and Father Xavier. So I ended my role of eleven years as a educator in Aweil West and Aweil North. I tried my best and we had some good results and of course some failures. In December our Father General and a Brother Doctor who is also an assistant of the General came to South Sudan and they were to be in Wau on January 6th and so cut one of the Year of Faith celebrations and after dark I drove the 210 kilometers to Wau on the 5th and got there at 2 am. in the morning on the sixth of January. There had been riots and killings on tribal basis the week before in that city and the bishop had canceled all the midnight Masses for Christmas and New Years. So I knew that that town was under a night curfew and so I might be allowed in after dark. But they did stop me several times along the way and then let me in and there was no one or animal stirring anywhere. As I got near the Comboni house, I hear someone shouting that time was up and so I stopped and they were Dinka soldiers and so when they heard me speak Dinka they laughed and let me go on without any more questions. The next day I went to Mass in the parish church of Saint Daniel Comboni and met the General who is a Mexican and our first Superior General from the Americas. The Comboni Sisters since have elected a Brazilian General and of course we now have an Argentine Pope. I had a deep man to man talk with him and a delicious dinner with all the Comboni Missionary Sisters and Comboni Missionaries working in Wau among who were SIX MDs, yes six medical doctors. Then I bought a new car battery and other things. The next day I was back in Nyamlell. From January 6th to January 13th we had a catechists’ training course which we taught about the Gospel of Luke, and the Porta Fidei of Pope Benedict XVI and a few other things and we three priests and Mr. Marko, the youth leader, were all the presenters of the topics of religion and leadership skills. It was all well received. I had to buy all the food and a bull and a ram to have meat, which is so important for an African gathering and celebration of faith and learning and transition. Therefore on the Baptism of the Lord, Sunday we had the official turning over of the parish from me to the Indian missionary congregation when all the parish catechists were also present. The bishop sent the parish priest of Aweil Town to represent him for the turning over and for the blessing of four chapels. Even civil authorities were there and that made me very happy. Father Natale Bak gave a very good homily in Dinka and in English and the Superior Delegate of the MMI and another of their confreres was there but no other Comboni came. Father Thadeus became the new parish priest and Father X his assistant. I gave a short talk that all the parish and chapels of Aweil West and Aweil North would remain in my heart and mind and the River Lol would keep flowing in my thoughts till the end of my days. They liked that. Then the catechists scattered. I told them that I would remain and work in the parish till January 31 which turned out to be Febuary 11th. On January 14th we went and blessed the small church dedicated to Saint Catherine in Mabior Nyang and we had the Mass inside and without a loud speaker and that was a huge mistake. This helped prepare for the next three days. On the 15th of January we went to Wun Arol and dedicated the new permanent chapel to Saint Lawrence. Then I was ready for the crowd and they could hear and we prayed outside. On the 16th we went to bless the chapel of Saint Paul the Apostle in Matuic and had baptisms and confirmations and even a marriage. On the 17 we went to Gor Ayen and there was a store on the Norwegian Refugee Council who built a primary school and the store was left and the Catholic community took it other for their chapel. All the others I built with the help of the local community but this I gave nothing and we got a zinc sheet roofed chapel with bamboo walls. We had baptisms and confirmations and Mass and named it for Saint Florence and my relatives will know why. Father Thadeus said that he could not find her among the lives of the saints and I told him that she was there. I gave Father Natale money for his fuel and was very happy how everything went. From the 18th to the 23d of January The new parish priest and the old went out to visit two far off centers and we divided up the work and each went to a different chapel each day and made the pastoral work efficient and easy. From the 24th to the 31st of the same month I went by myself to another far off center where some days I did two chapels and others one whereas Fr. X and Fr T did some chapels nearer to Nyamlell. From January 24 to the 31st I went again by myself to visit two centers and 10 chapels in Aweil East and there I found, to my surprise, Father Bak, who said I could visit these chapels even though they don’t belong to Nyamlell but some catechists had come to me in March 2012 seeking a visit from me and with Father’s permission. So I was there with the car up to February 6th late in the evening some of the chapels were very far from one another and there is a lot of confusion there due to the area being disputed between Gordhim and Aweil, and Nyamlell is not in that dog fight. Anyway I went to help and had baptisms and marriages. By the way, I took Fr. T to another place and dropped him off in his parish and he went around with a catechist on bicycles to visit the chapels in that center. From the 7th to the tenth of February I went to my last center that I would visit in Nyamlell parish and was by myself visiting two chapels a day and needed Fr. Thadeus to help me on Sunday the 10th only. Well he had more work in that one chapel than I had had in the other eight all together. We put his bike in the car and I, for the last, time went to Nyamlell, which had been my home for the last eleven years. I was up most of the night packing and putting things in the car and giving the keys to the safe and to my room to the new MMI pastoral team. I left Nyamlell for good on the 11th after my last Mass there and kissed the cats and away we went to Aweil and on the way we met the commissioner of Aweil North on the road and were able to give a final good-bye and thank you. During the war we had never gotten a license plate for the car as no one bothered me about it but so as to help the new guys I stopped in Aweil and for Lss 1000 we got them for front and back and went and even put them on and then we had some things to buy for another new chapel which needs a roof and pillars to hold it up and a door and windows and the last one that I will fund but not see finished; and we drove on to Wau. It was after dark when we got there but Wau was back to normal with people and animals everywhere, all lit up. The next morning I turned the keys of the car over too and I went to the printing press to sort out the messed up prayer book and once again God opened up ways for me. No one could understand the problem. But in the corner was a man who had just arrived the night before. He said he thought he could try. He was from Argentina and his name was Carlos. He became the Savior of that Dinka Prayer Book and the Indians in charge did not seem to have a clue but Carlos worked with me and then on his own and brought out a beauty from an ugly mess. So I got him to download all the fonts and then the soft copy from my computer and start again to put in the final form. It took three more days but Carlos and a little me we did it. The Prayer Book will be printed 6,050 copies in the Don Bosco Printing Press in Wau and should be out in a couple of months. It was on Tuesday evening when I got home that Father T called to tell me that they had turned the car over and it was a wreak and it happen just as they were leaving Wau and that was within ten hours of my giving them the keys. On Friday a brother lent me his car (I did not even ask him for it) and I put in petrol and visited Mboro Mission which is 101 years old and Kayango which is 109 years old and both have churches but all the other buildings are abandoned and left for the bush. Maybe each has fifty to sixty buildings, all roofless and doorless and windowless, but the walls are still strong. On Sunday the 18th I went out to a Dinka village near Wau for the Sunday liturgy and repacked my suitcases and on the 19th I left Wau by public means by road. One Samsonite case fell off the car but showed itself to be strong and did not break. When I refused to pay a bribe I got kicked and in Rumbek on arrival I had some trouble too. The next day I went to Cueibet to visit an American Comboni from Indiana who I had never met but knew her great aunt who had been a prioress at the Beech Grove Benedictine Monastery and was now dead. It was a wonderful visit during which I got to see a teachers training center (TTC named for Caesar Mazzolari) and a new vocational School not far away and run by a Comboni Missionary. The next three days I visited friends and former students in Rumbek and some helped me with donations. One SPLA soldier got mad at something I said and hit me in the mouth but did no damage. On Friday the 22nd I got a lift to Mapuordit where I will be to help in the pastoral work here until Low Sunday or the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Two things I wanted to do before going home are the pilgrimage to where St. Daniel Comboni worked for nine months, 155 years ago, and to go to the priestly ordination of Deacon John Malou Beny, who I with others had sent to the seminary. The first is done: The pilgrimage took place from the 11th to the 16th of March. On the 11th we went to Yirol for an opening Mass and the 12th and 13th we were taken to many churches recently built in Yirol parish by the Spanish Comboni Missionary parish priest all with wonderful paintings of Comboni and the Holy Cross. Then on the 14th we walked to Pan Nhom but everything the planners said turned out not to be true so the whole way was all mud and water and it was much farther than we were told so after three hours of what was supposed to be a two hour trip and the provincial gets the bright idea to turn back. I had preached at his insistence "No turning back" just the evening before. So no way Jose!!! I am going on and there was a division and 39 of us went on and went the other two hours till we got to Pan Nhom all the way in neck high water. It was so meaningful to me as I came out of the water all the village was clapping their hands and the other 38 youth were singing my praises and then I looked up and saw a small cross on a hut shouting at me that the faith had not died and that all the effort had been worthwhile. After 155 years since Daniel Comboni celebrated his birthday here the Faith in this year of faith was still here and in South Sudan. People had prepared platters and platters of fish and prepared one mug of sweet tea just for me. We could not say Mass as the wine and hosts remained with the other group who did not go on. I also noticed that I was the only non Sudanese and all the youth were from Mapuordit and Yirol and this is where the faith was first planted in Bahr el Gazhal and now here were young believers and myself, who has worked 20 years in this region all here to profess our faith and say: A THOUSAND LIVES FOR THE MISSION. FOR THE MISSION A THOUSAND LIVES. We had to go back and three hours in light and four in darkness with no torch or flashlight but in a cattle camp I bought one from an old lady and the hard mud was the worst. Most of the walking in soft mud and water was done barefoot. We got back to the lorry around eleven and back to Yirol at 3 am on Comboni’s birthday. All could have made it if we had gone and slept and the next day come back but the organizers did not do their homework but now we know in the future for others to get there to this significant place. Next Sunday on Palm Sunday we go to Yirol for the ordination of John Malou Beny and all this Mapuordit Community will go as he went to school here and left for the seminary from here too. We have great hopes for him. Mapuordit is like a totally new place for me but I am doing something as I prepare to leave for home but compared to Nyamlell Mapuordit is a holiday and a piece of cake. Happy Holy Week and a very Happy Easter! Sincerely Yours, Father Michael D. Barton, MCCJ. Ps. In 2012 Nyamlell had 1784 baptisms, 367 first communions, 341 confirmations,19 marriages, 48,211 Holy Communions given, 501 Masses said, 1112 confessions heard, 177 sick were anointed, and only four Christian burials were celebrated Six permanent chapels were constructed, and seven non permanent chapels were also built. From March 1st, 2002, when I arrived in Nyamlell until February 11th, 2013, when I left, we had 21,963 baptisms in the parish. We took first place in state and diocesan examinations five times and renewed four primaries and one high school and built eleven churches. Praised be JESUS CHRIST!