Sudan – The Salesians remain with the people during the emergency

31 May 2023

(ANS – Khartoum) – An internal war has been raging in Sudan for a month and a half, sparked by rivalry between the country’s top authorities. The result is the suffering of the entire population. Over these first 45 days, 1.3 million people have already been forced to flee.

When the first bombs exploded, the building where the Salesian missionaries in Khartoum are living found itself halfway between the two fronts. “To everyone’s astonishment, on Saturday 15 April, shots and heavy gunfire were heard,” said the Rector of the facility, Father Jacob Thelekkadan. One bomb fell in the laboratories of the St Joseph's vocational school, fortunately at a time when the students were elsewhere. It was almost a miracle, considering that on Saturdays the classrooms are filled again after the Friday prayer, according to the precepts of Islam.” Then more fell, causing no casualties. After rescuing the children, the religious immediately put in place a service of assistance for families who began asking for protection and assistance for food that same day and, in some cases, for temporary hospitalisation.

Everyone in Sudan wants a durable ceasefire to replace food supplies, to reconnect water and energy networks, to allow humanitarian corridors to protect the population from armed confrontation between the two armies – who have equal numbers and resources – in what would be wrong to call a “civil war”, since it is not the population fighting, but just the two contending leaders.

But now hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing: think of what the influx of hundreds of thousands of families, deprived of everything and terrified by fratricidal killings, entails for neighbouring countries. Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Libya are their places of destination, each chosen based on proximity but also in the hope of being accepted there. These masses increase the frightening total of refugees in Africa, the continent where the most substantial migrations of all time are taking place, including for climatic reasons.

The Salesians have decided to stay in Khartoum and El-Obeid, where they are appreciated for their ability to train the young people whose jobs Sudan needs to pursue economic development. Two vocational schools are accessible to the children of Muslim families, and the public institutions of the country have been aware of this and respect the fact.

The beginning of the Salesian presence in this country lying between Ethiopia and Egypt dates back more than 40 years, and has been characterised by growing mutual trust. When Fr Václav Klement managed to enter the country, in April 2022, as the Extraordinary Visitor sent by the Rector Major, after considerble effort in terms of visas and bureaucratic procedures he was able to meet his thirteen confreres across 3 communities: a parish serving 25,000 faithful and 8 parish primary schools, and two Vocational Training Centres, one per city, which take in about 800 young people.

The miracle wrought by these Sons of Don Bosco is made real today in the courage that meant they chose not to board the convoys bringing personnel from foreign organisations to neighbouring Djibouti to board flights for their return home. They remain in Khartoum and El-Obeid to share the new difficult daily life together with their parishioners and co-workers, to nourish the hope for peace.

And just as refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine have found open doors to Salesian houses in neighbouring countries, so Sudanese find other Salesians ready to welcome them to some of the places where they flee from their country. Like Juba, South Sudan, where the Sons of Don Bosco are present and active in a refugee camp.

“Let us pray that common sense may prevail on both sides,” writes the Archbishop of Khartoum, Michael Didi Agdum Mangoria. The Sons of Don Bosco remain a his side as a sign that miracles can be hoped for.

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