Binghamton native Father Bassano reports from Upper Nile State
By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
Praying amidst 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: “The National Government Health Task Force has declared a one-month lockdown here in South Sudan as we are experiencing the second wave of COVID-19. On Feb. 3, 100 confirmed cases of the virus were confirmed within 48 hours which brings the total number of cases in the country to 4,200 with 66 deaths.
“All social gatherings and religious services throughout the country are to be suspended until further notice. Therefore, we continue to record our 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.”
Father Bassano 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.
“Yesterday, we heard rumors that the Nuer militia was planning to attack the Dinka in Malakal town. 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) and also his latest poem, titled “Serving,” which is based on John 3:30.
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, the man was forced to remain at the Malakal U.N. camp unable to see his family since 2016.
Last month (January 2021), 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.”
Conjunction of planets
illuminating evening sky
naked eye seeing
of interconnected universe
spectacular shooting stars
shining amidst darkness
Calling upon My Beloved.
is soothing remedy
for every trial
and suffering in life
As situations arise
Your life increasing
content to be
simply for you
— Stay well and regards to all in the diocese,
As always, Fr. Michael