Fifty years after their expulsion from South Sudan, missionaries reflected on the challenges and unexpected blessings borne out of the dismissal, as well as upon the future of the country.
"The expulsion: was it a sign or an inevitable misfortune?" asked Fr. Daniele Moschetti and Sr. Giovanna Sguazza, provincial superiors of South Sudan of the Comboni Missionaries and Comboni Sisters, a missionary religious order, in a Feb. 27 letter.
"We would like to read it today as a ‘sign of the times’ for the mission in Africa, the Africa that was changing rapidly with the advent of the national independences."
In February 1964, the Sudanese government "issued the decree of expulsion of all the foreign missionaries" living in South Sudan, Fr. Moschetti and Sr. Sguazza said. The act affected 154 religious sisters, 104 religious brothers, and 13 other missionaries from their order living in 58 missions in South Sudan.
While the "expulsion represented a major event for the mission of South Sudan and for the Comboni family," it “was a real trauma for those who had been expelled and for the Christian communities that remained behind.”
Even though the missionaries were forced to leave, however, they "did not abandon their communities," the letter said, with missionaries continuing to raise funds and pray for Sudanese-born Catholics in South Sudan, and the Vatican "tried to dialogue with Khartoum Government in view of a possible return of the missionaries."
Even though foreign missionaries had to leave South Sudan, the experience still led to a blossoming of faith in the area. The experience helped support the emergence of "a local church, with its own hierarchy, priests and religious," and contributed to the evangelization of North Sudan, when refugees from South Sudan fled north, bringing their faith with them.
In the face of current political turmoil in South Sudan, Fr. Moschetti and Sr. Sguazza prayed that the "South Sudanese people will come out of this crisis stronger than ever," as when the missionaries were expelled.
“We believe that the people of South Sudan will rediscover the national identity to build up together their nation with the help of God, overcoming the evil of tribalism and division.”
The letter encouraged the South Sudanese to not give up hope, and to remember that "God has not abandoned his people!"
"God has never abandoned South Sudan during the long years of war," they said, asking them to face future challenges with faith, without fear, “and with great courage!”