Father Francis, a Divine Word Missionary from Kerala, India had been working in South Sudan for years. When the violence got worse, he risked the dangerous terrain and accompanied his parishioners to Northern Uganda to protect them. He now serves them in Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, one of the largest camps in the world now serving over 275,000 refugees.
Father Jimmy saw his parishioners lined up execution style and killed in front of his Church. He too accompanied his remaining parishioners to Uganda. These two priests now serve over 400,000, mostly Catholic, South Sudanese refugees across several different settlements in Northern Uganda.
Father Francis and Father Jimmy have been welcomed by two other priests and their parishioners in mostly Muslim Northern Uganda. Father Felix studied at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the parish priest who has welcomed fifteen Catholic Relief Service (CRS) workers there. He offered a place to stay, along with breakfast, dinner, daily mass, and a place to call home.
Father David, another Ugandan priest, serves the neighboring parish a few miles from Father Felix. His parish offices and hall have likewise become the offices and conference center for the growing CRS team.
Together these two Ugandan priests, and their parishioners, have become the local host communities for South Sudanese refugees, and together with Father Francis and Father Jimmy, they serve those who have found a new, temporary, (and perhaps permanent) kindly welcome in Northern Uganda.
Catholic Relief Services, with monies raised from US-based programs like Operation Rice Bowl, and from other generous Catholic benefactors in America, along with grants from the US Government, serves, both host communities and refugees, with a comprehensive approach to provide life-saving amenities. CRS engages both local hosts and refugees themselves in the process of building homes, latrines and kitchens, as well as providing healthy environments and livelihoods to both host and refugee alike.
To reduce conflict and ensure a peaceful coexistence between host communities and refugees, a year ago the Uganda government established a 70/30 rule so that refugees receive seventy percent of efforts and host communities receive thirty percent of the support given. This wise approach makes development projects more sustainable by receiving local input, and by engaging host and refugee together in a common, hopeful future.
The generosity of the four priests, the fifteen, soon to be forty CRS staff, and the hosts and refugees alike guarantees that those served, and those who serve and support, make a permanent difference. The generosity of the American Catholics, the American Government, coupled with Catholic Social Teaching of subsidiarity and respect for the human person, makes the work of CRS such a blessing. While there is still a gap in funding to support the growing number of refugees, CRS continues to play a vital role in the South Sudanese refugee response in Northern Uganda.
During my week in Uganda, I shared in the priestly and truly missionary work of CRS. This affirmed my love for the Church and for the priesthood, as well as my appreciation for the American Government and my continued appreciation for CRS, and for the many generous people who truly do the Lord’s work.
+ Gregory John Mansour
Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, and
Chair of the Board of Directors
Catholic Relief Services