Binghamton native Father Bassano reports from Upper Nile State
By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
Praying amid a coronavirus-caused lockdown in South Sudan, Father Michael Bassano, a Binghamton native, also reports on the political situation and an emotional reunion.
The Maryknoll missionary is the Catholic chaplain for people who have been displaced by civil war in the UN Protection of Civilians (POC) camp outside the town of Malakal in Upper Nile State. Up to about 3,000 of the 30,000 displaced people are members of his parish.
He writes: “Here in South Sudan we now have over 5,000 cases and we are in lockdown with restrictive measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, and regularly washing hands as a way to prevent further spread of the caronavirus.
“At the [UN compound] where I am living we have six confirmed cases as well as three confirmed cases in the humanitarian hub of NGO [non-governmental organization] workers. In our POC camp we still do not have an idea of how many cases there are as little testing is being done. We hope and pray that God protect our people here and everyone in the world as we endure this pandemic.
“The newly appointed governor and deputy governor are still in the capital, Juba, arguing over who will be the mayor of Malakal town and who will be the county commissioner. We pray that both opposition and government parties can come to a reasonable solution without a return to armed conflict in Upper Nile State.”
Father Bassano continues to record his Sunday Eucharistic service over Nile Radio “as the way to stay connected with our people in the camp through faith and hope for better days to come.”
He reports that recently, “there was fighting between Nuer and Dinka militias in the village of Anyang which is 40 kilometers southeast of the town called Akoka which is not far from Malakal. Many civilians were displaced by the fighting. Government soldiers from Malakal came to support the Dinka militia and eventually drove the Nuer militia out of the village. …
“We pray and hope that the better angels of our nature will lead people to live in peace with one another all over our world and in South Sudan.”
Amid the political tension, the people are sweltering: “We are in the hottest season of the year from February to April with temperatures averaging 98 to 102 degrees daily with humidity but we try to keep in the shade.”
Father Bassano’s routine includes rising early to see the sunrise, going for walks, and writing poetry.
He offers the following vignette about James (not his real name):
Son meets his mother
Since the civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.
James, who is 34 years old, lived with his mother and sister in the village of Bunj, which is near Malakal town. When heavy fighting began in 2016 between opposition and government forces in the village, James escaped with his mother and sister to a remote village near the Ugandan border. He then returned to Malakal town to look for work and send food to his family. As fighting grew more intense around Malakal, he was forced to remain at the Malakal UN camp unable to see his family since 2016.
Last month, James was finally able to travel safely to that border village to meet his mother and sister after so many years.
Upon his arrival at the village, someone told him that his mother was out in the field planting vegetables. When he saw his mother he immediately yelled out her name and they then embraced each other and cried together for a long time.
The villagers who saw and heard what had happened said: “The son has reunited with his mother again.”