Mercy Missionary in strife-torn South Sudan

Missionary zeal seems to be deeply rooted in the psyche of Sr. Rosario. She was born in Ballinasloe Co Galway in 1942 and made her Profession as a Sister of Mercy in Tilbury, the dockland area, of Essex, England in 1960. She made her lifelong commitment to the Mercy Congregation in 1963 through her final Profession of the Vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, and the Service of the Poor, Sick and Uneducated. After qualifying as a teacher she taught for several years in Colchester before volunteering for the Mercy Mission in Kenya. During this exhilarating period she supervised the building and opening of a school providing Secondary Education for Girls which opened in 1977.

Somewhat regretfully, in 1980 she returned to England to take up the post of Head Teacher at a primary school in Romford and in 1985 she was appointed Head Teacher in St. Helens Primary School in Brentwood. Throughout this period she remained a great advocate of missionary endeavour and supported through school events the work of overseas development.  

However, following her official ‘retirement’ in 2004 Sr. Rosario’s missionary zeal blazed into new life.

After a short sabbatical period of spiritual renewal, she joined the Voluntary Service for over Seas Development (VSO) and was posted to Ethiopia and then to Maridi in South Sudan. Later missionary work developed from personal invitations. While working in Maridi she was approached by the bishop of the diocese at the beginning of 2013 to help out in his seminary in nearby Yambio.

 This was a springboard into a much wider area of need.
Perhaps at this point a little historical background is required 

Sudan had, for more than 20 years, been plagued by civil war between the predominantly Muslim North and the predominantly Christian South. In early 2005, a peace agreement was signed between the warring factions and in January 2011 South Sudan decided, after a referendum, to secede from the North. This led to the formal independence of the Republic of South Sudan on the 9th July, 2011, making it the youngest country in the world. Its population comprises  three main communities - the Dinkas, Nuers and Shilluks.

The country's first president was Salva Kiir, a Dinka and the vice-president Riek Macher, a Nuer, who was deposed in May 2013, after being accused of planning a coup against the Government. This has led to on going inter-ethnic violence, especially in the north eastern states of Jonglei, Unity and the Upper Nile, where the oil fields are located.

The well-known and very worthy “Médecins Sans Frontières" who are providing healthcare, surgery, vaccinations and clean water throughout nine of the ten South Sudanese states, have reported that in the space of just 100 days since the conflict began in December of last year, 10,000 people have died and 803,000 people have been displaced from their homes within South Sudan, of whom 254000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, eking out a living in overcrowded camps.

As recently as Holy Week this year, the rebels stormed a UN base where people had taken refuge and many were killed there. Sr. Rosario stated: Thousands are killed each year in fights over grasslands for their animals. It is all so sad and pointless".  

Sr. Rosario's escalating missionary endeavour

When Sr. Rosario arrived in Yambio she discovered that the 'seminary' was a ramshackle, rundown dilapidated building, which needed cleaning and painting in preparation for use by the students beginning their priestly training.

She immediately set about the task of making the environment more pleasant, welcoming and suitable for the 19 young men who were beginning their two year course in Philosophy. Engaging some local volunteers she led by example rolling up her sleeves set to sweeping, cleaning, scrubbing, and painting the building.

There is  no mains electricity or water and  some of the windows are without glass. Solar panels, backed up by a generator run on diesel, are the only source of electrical power. This is also used to pump the water from the borehole to a tank.

Classes were soon up and running. Rosario also makes also makes a valuable contribution by running English classes in speaking , reading and writing. The Bishop's longer term plan is to extend the seminary into a University style Institute, so that others, in addition to trainee priests, can benefit.

Outside the Seminary classrooms she describes herself as the 'general dogs body', doing the shopping and organizing the kitchen and laundry, overseeing the cleaning and maintenance of the building.

Beyond the seminary she has become involved in rural development with regard to water supply and farming. Boring for water for the seminary has brought about a wonderful resource for the locality as well. Locally, the soil is extremely fertile but due to the war nothing has been sown or grown. Ploughing the large tracts of land would need a tractor but there is no prospect at present of getting one! Given the tools and the right training, the whole area could become self-sufficient as far as food is concerned. At the moment all food is imported from Uganda.

 However, undaunted Sr. Rosario applied to the Irish Charity 'Trócaire' for help and received a grant to start a piggery. She reports that they now have four pigs for breeding and five being fattened to eat! 
 A Hen House has also been built and chickens purchased. Hopefully they will soon be laying and in the near future eggs and pork may be on the menu!

Rosario prays ardently for peace. Currently, whatever farming is done, has to be done on an ad hoc basis. Her hope is are to be able one day to start an agricultural college where local people could learn farming skills.

                                                                                                                         The Hen House

Another very important aspect of her apostolate is dealing with displaced people, mostly women and children, victims of the internecine struggle going on in South Sudan. She visits the camps and areas were these people are living. Listening and consoling by expression and gesture she finds she can communicate with them and knows they really value and welcome her coming. 

Sr. Rosario then follows this up by taking every step possible to provide education for the children, getting them admitted to whatever schools are available.

It is quite a lonely life, though she is surrounded by people. The sense of isolation is increase by the fact that there is no post. She will not be able to receive letters, cash or any items which might be needed on the mission. The one exception and means of communication is intermittent email. So her twice yearly short breaks back in the UK are very welcome and necessary.

 However, while enjoying the opportunity to relax In the Convent in Brentwood, shop, and meet up with Sisters and other friends it is obvious that her mind is still out in South Sudan. There is the constant search for books, of a religious and academic nature, in particular, that would be helpful for her seminarians in Yambio. These she has to pack in her cases and take back with her. Fortunately she has an arrangement with Kenyan Airways to take extra luggage back to Nairobi, then on to Juba, which is about 250 miles from the seminary. Some task!

Sr. Rosario has a long prayer list!  The area needs two Churches, Primary and Secondary Schools, Agricultural College and The Bishop's dream for a University. The quickest answer she feels would be to win the Lottery!