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from issue no. 01/02 - 2005

Nubian people: among the tribulations of men and the marvels of God

A war that seemed would never end, a blaze that, still today, sorcerer’s apprentices, inside and outside the country, are trying to feed. In this tragedy the Church has tried to remain as close to the population as it could: dangerous journeys to try to bring a little humanitarian aid, missionaries on the trail of fleeing populations, pursued by bombs and hunger… Father Renato Kizito Sesana is one of the many Combonians who have spent time among the martyred Sudanese in these difficult years. He recently published a book telling of his journeying and unexpected encounters with the local populations.
It was in January 1994 that Yousif Kuwa, a Moslem and leader of the resistance in the Nubian mountains, went to find him in Nairobi with an invitation: «Father, people have told me about you… where we are there are many Catholics who need a priest and many children who need schools». So began a series of journeys into that mountainous territory squeezed between North and South, between government repression and the internal snares of the liberation movement (the Nubian movement of which Kuwa is leader is allied to the SPLA that operates in the South, but for long years it was also engaged in an armed struggle against it), to build structures for children and the poor, to bring the comfort of the sacraments, often in the wake of the first Combonian missionaries who had evangelized the country. Father Kizito’s book tells of the tribulations of the people but also of the marvels worked by the Lord in the midst of that pain. As when he writes of Joseph Phal Mut, a catechist who came to Nairobi in search of a priest for his people: thousands of men and women who had been waiting for years for a priest to administer the sacraments to them. A bizarre request that aroused the skepticism of a variety of people with whom he spoke. Joseph didn’t lose heart and also knocked at Father Kizito’s door. Again in front of him he took out his notebook, full of the names of people who, through him, had received baptism. Father Kizito decided to go and see. He recalls: «We visited dozens of chapels built where the trees of the savannah were thicker, places of prayer and gathering where the inhabitants of the surrounding area came together. We were able to speak with them and ascertained that they held the essential notions of the faith. We celebrated the Eucharist, after administering the sacrament of reconciliation, together with thousands of adult Catholics who had never seen a priest before. There, in the absence of any ecclesiastical structure, in a state of total deprivation, in the middle of a harsh war, there was a people that was coming to Christ, to the Church». All thanks to the preaching of that unknown catechist. How had he done it? A question which Joseph answered by simply slapping his legs: «Using these. They are the only things that the Lord gave me. I know only how to walk. Where I get to, I tell what I know of Christ and of the Church».
The book also speaks of the witness given by the many catechists killed during the repression, which ended in 2002 with the agreement between the Khartoum government and representatives of the SPLA of the Nuba. Father Kizito remembers a meal with the elders of a village and of a catechist who told him of his predecessor, Gabriel. In one of the many raids by soldiers on their village, Gabriel had tried to cover the escape of his catechumens. They captured him. «Are you Christian?» they asked. «Yes», he answered, knowing full well what to expect. The story goes on: «So they tied his hands and feet. What usually happens is that the soldiers put the Christians into the church building, after tying them up, and set fire to the straw of the roof to burn them alive. Gabriel, who was a tall big man, was also a tough fighter, and didn’t let the soldiers tie his hands. One of them, fearing that Gabriel might escape, pulled out a knife and slashed his throat. Then they ran off leaving Gabriel’s body on the ground, just outside the church door. That’s why we Catholics consider this place holy ground. Gabriel spilled his blood here for Jesus».
Witness to the faith that Kizito reports with awe and delicacy. Like that of so many Nubians who, having come to the faith through the missionaries, have kept it all the years, even after the expulsion of the latter by the Khartoum regime. Father Kizito reports a meeting with an elder during one of his journeys. From the top of one of the mountains on which he lived, the old Catholic pointed out in the valley bottom the site where once there stood the little church in which they met with Father Francesco Cazzaniga (former apostolic administrator of El Obeid), when he came to visit them. Then the repression, the church burned down, the blackened walls demolished… From the top, looking at that piece of ground, mindful of long-gone encounters, the old man said to Father Kizito: «When you see Father Francesco, tell him we have kept the faith».

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