Editor’s note: Father Michael Bassano, MM, who grew up in Binghamton, continues to live and minister in the large refugee camp in Malakal, South Sudan. Father Mike has been there for several years; he is the Catholic chaplain in the camp of thousands of refugees. Father Mike was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Syracuse in 1975. Then, after some years of ministry in the diocese, including Utica and Binghamton, he heard the call to minister in an overseas mission with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers; he is now incardinated with Maryknoll.
Sacrificing everything to save church materials
Her name is Veronica Calleman; she is a member of the Catholic Community in the United Nations camp at Malakal, South Sudan.
When fighting erupted on Feb. 17, 2016, among the ethnic groups, she feared for her safety and that of her family. Veronica made a decision to flee from the area where she lived in a tent to another part of the camp that was more secure.
When she heard gunfire very near her, Veronica made an effort to take out of her tent that which was essential. Instead of gathering up her clothes or those of her children, along with other family possessions, she took only the bags containing the materials of the church (altar linens, vestments, chalice, hosts, candles, and liturgical books) that for her were not only things of the church, but things of God. She also prayed, “God help me.”
After Veronica escaped the fighting, arriving safely with her family with only the clothes they were wearing, she learned the area where she had lived was burnt to the ground. All she could say was that God had helped her during this terrible ordeal to keep going and to find relief and shelter in another part of the camp.
We gave Veronica assistance from the church collections to buy food and clothes for her and her family. It was the least we could do for someone who that day was sacrificing everything so that the Catholic Community could continue to pray in the UN Camp at Malakal.
Crucifix of hope
There was a processional cross that we used every Sunday for our liturgical celebration in the United Nations camp for internally displaced people in Malakal, South Sudan.
During the crisis of February 2016 when ethic groups began fighting in the camp, the cross which was kept at the tent of one of our young people suddenly disappeared and was believed to have been burnt and destroyed along with so many of the tents where the people were living. A few days later, one of our women of the Catholic community saw children playing with a cross. As she drew closer she recognized it as the cross from our church.
She asked the children to give it to her and she noticed the cross was badly burnt with the left arm of Jesus broken off. She returned the cross to the church and we fastened it again on a pole to be used for our Easter celebration. Even though the arm of Jesus was gone from the cross, I mentioned to the people that we are now the arms and hands of Jesus to reach out to one another in bringing peace to South Sudan.
The cross became for us a crucifix of hope that even though the people had suffered, the resilience of their life and vibrant faith were signs that God was with us, ensuring a better time to come in their lives.
Father Mike Bassano