In his first visit in more than four years, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum-Sudan spent an intensive few days meeting public officials, parish representatives and refugees. Both refugees and host community members welcomed him wholeheartedly.
"Today you are here in this land, in exile, but the people of Maban [Upper Nile] can remember that not too long ago they were the ones who had to flee to the north or to Ethiopia seeking for a safer place. Thus true hospitality is very important," said Bishop Adwok to a group of refugees and parish representatives.
Prior to its separation from Sudan, people from Maban were being hosted across the border. These roles have been reversed, as Maban now hosts more than 130,000 refugees from Blue Nile State in Sudan. Bishop Adwok, who spent time visiting the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) projects, underlined the importance of meeting both refugee and host community needs and fostering a welcoming environment.
"It is very important for JRS to be a bridge between the refugees and the host community. I also ask you to be strong advocates of the needs of the refugees. I have been with them; I have heard their plea, and it cannot remain unattended," the bishop added.
While visiting the JRS teacher training and English adult education programmes being offered to the host community, the bishop encouraged the students to take this opportunity to learn more so they can serve better their people.
The words of the bishop, who spent the afternoon in Doro refugee camp sharing the joys and sorrows of the Sudanese refugees, reflected those of Adolfo Nicolás SJ, Father General of the Society of Jesus. Speaking at an event organised in Rome to commemorate the thirty-fourth anniversary of the foundation of JRS, Fr Nicolás emphasized the centrality of the hospitality toward refugees.
"Our understanding recognises the claim that all of us have to be welcomed, not because we are members of a specific family, race or faith community, but simply because we are human beings who deserve welcome and respect."
This call to welcome the refugees and to be active advocates of their needs echoes the vital role the Catholic Church played during the long years of war in South Sudan, as it has been captured by John Ashworth in his recent book, The Voice of the Voiceless. In times of war and destruction the voice of the Church can become a source of consolation to those who suffer and bring some international attention to conflicts otherwise forgotten.
Despite having been evacuated twice in 2014 due to the insecurity, the JRS team on the ground hopes to build peace and stability, deepening its commitment to the refugees and host community members in Maban in the journey towards a more dignified future. Bishop Adwok's recent visit has been a joyful reminder that the Church leaders remain with their people through thick and thin, even asking them to go an extra mile and become true beacons of hospitality.
Pau Vidal SJ, JRS Maban Project Director