Three South Sudanese Catholic clerics are among 12 people arrested following the shooting of the bishop-elect of Rumbek diocese in the early hours on Monday, a source in Rumbek has told ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.
Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare, appointed by Pope Francis to lead Rumbek diocese on March 8, was shot in both legs when two armed men fired multiple bullets at his door, gaining access to his room.
Vatican News reported April 27 that Pope Francis was praying for the 43-year-old bishop-elect, citing Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office.
Carlassare was initially treated at a health facility under the auspices of Doctors with Africa CUAMM in Rumbek, the capital of Lakes State, central South Sudan. He was later airlifted to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, for specialized treatment, through the services of the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF).
Speaking to ACI Africa April 26 on condition of anonymity, the source said that security officials handling the case in Lakes State were following leads from a cell phone found at the scene of the crime.
“When the two men shot the bishop-elect, one of them dropped down his phone and the bishop fell on it. It is this phone that the security used to find the people connected,” the source said.
Among those arrested after the shooting are members of the clergy and “other prominent lay personalities in the Diocese of Rumbek,” the source disclosed, adding that 12 people were linked to the “physical evidence of the cell phone found where the bishop-elect was shot.”
South Sudan, an east-central African country of 11 million people, gained independence from Sudan in 2011. The Catholic Church is the largest Christian body in the country, which borders Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.
The arrests follow a directive from South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to “carry out an expeditious investigation” into the incident.
In an April 26 statement, Kiir said that he “learned with dismay the unfortunate incident that involved the Rt Rev. Christian Carlassare, Bishop-elect of Rumbek diocese, who was shot last night by the unidentified gunmen.”
“The reprehensible act of violence meted on him is unacceptable and it must stop. I call upon all South Sudanese to condemn the criminals who carried out this heinous crime in the strongest terms possible.”
He continued: “If those who carried out this shameful act were doing so to intimidate the Church, they are sadly mistaken. The Catholic faithful Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare was chosen to lead and authorities in Lakes State will stand by him and will not allow action of few criminals to affect the plans of ecclesiastical authority.”
Poth Madit, deputy governor of Lakes State, confirmed that the authorities had made arrests in an interview with ACI Africa.
“Investigations are underway and we have link information to find suspects. Some arrests have been made and more are being made, hopefully within the next 24 hours. Something substantive would have been done by the government regarding the shooting of the bishop,” he said April 26.
Madit described the attack on the bishop-elect an “isolated incident” perpetrated by a group of criminals whose network, he said, has already been established.
In an April 26 statement, the South Sudan Human Rights Commission condemned the attack.
It said: “[From] the event leading to this unfortunate development and other relevant information, it has become clear that the bishop-elect was sole target of the attack.”
“The commission hereby condemns this barbaric act in strongest terms possible and urges both the state and national Government to institute an investigation committee to conduct thorough investigation with the aim of holding the culprits accountable.”
“While the government conducts its investigation, the commission urges the faithful to remain calm as we shall closely monitor the investigation and equally do our own fact-finding and keep the general public informed of any latest developments.”
Carlassare’s episcopal ordination was scheduled to take place on Pentecost Sunday, May 23.
The Italian-born Comboni Missionary had served in South Sudan’s Malakal diocese since he arrived in the country in 2005.
He traveled to Rumbek diocese April 15, following a spiritual retreat in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
As he left Rumbek for further treatment in Kenya, the bishop-elect appealed for prayers and asked for forgiveness for the perpetrators.
“Pray for me and let’s all pray for the Diocese of Rumbek that God may have mercy on us and receive His graces,” the Italian-born bishop-elect he said.
“We also need to forgive those who committed this kind of action.”
He added: “Let us be united in prayer, let us be good Christians and trust the Lord and that the Lord may do something good. I thank the doctors, priests, and people of the Church for being with me during this moment of suffering from the night till now.”
Rumbek was elevated to a diocese in 1974. The see became vacant in 2011 following the sudden death of Bishop Cesare Mazzolari. The Comboni missionary bishop collapsed during Mass on July 16, 2011, a week after South Sudan gained independence. He was confirmed dead at Rumbek State Hospital.
When Carlassare was named bishop of Rumbek last month, nearly 10 years after the death of the diocese’s last bishop, he described his appointment as an illustration of “the God of surprises.”
A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner, written by Peter Mapuor Makur. It has been adapted by CNA.