The construction site of the brotherhood
Publish date 12-11-2023
It's easy to say brotherhood.
It is more complex to live it, to build it, especially when everything seems to be going in the opposite direction. It happens everywhere.
Father Christian Carlassare understood this in his missionary experience in South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, independent since 2011.
Originally from Vicenza, 45 years old, he has been bishop of the diocese of Rumbek for two years.
His life today is in Africa, a continent that is both beautiful and tragic: the continent of immense expanses and natural resources, of warmth and closeness, but also of wars, tribal hatreds, violence.
But it is precisely there that paths of brotherhood can open up
You arrived in South Sudan as a young priest in 2005. Many years have passed. What country had he found?
The first years were difficult, with nothing, everything destroyed by the war, but there was the community that welcomed me, a network of solidarity relationships with which they managed to make up for every lack.
They welcomed me by telling me that they had prayed to have a father and the Lord had answered them with a father with the face of a boy.
With them I understood that there is no poverty that prevents us from sharing and giving to others. I was adopted by many families when I began my stay: I saw their solidarity firsthand.
Can you give some examples?
I'd love that. At the beginning of my presence in South Sudan, the territory of my first parish was enormous. For nine months of the year I was constantly on the move and completely dependent on the generosity of the various communities: they gave me food, water, washed my clothes, they never left me alone. Even when the war was knocking on the doors of the parish and I had my backpack ready to escape, I never felt alone. There has always been someone willing to be with me.
His appointment as bishop was like a seal. Two weeks before his ordination, he was the victim of an ambush. Sent by a priest from the diocese who is against his arrival. A clear wound to the idea of brotherhood...
Yes, I was shot in the legs. It was an experience of profound suffering.
I remember that that day we had prayed the Gospel of the Good Shepherd: it was a message of service that Jesus gave to his followers, the idea of giving one's life not for personal gain. After the attack I understood that the violence I had received was a way of making me close to those people who had suffered so much. I decided to move forward and stay in Rumbek for them, for all those people who cannot escape the war. The attack is as if it had allowed me to become a father and brother to all those people who didn't know me before.
A very strong message…
I would say the beginning of a journey into a reality made of lights and shadows. One beautiful thing about African society is precisely the underlying idea of brotherhood. In local culture, the individual is only worth in relation to what he can do for the community.
It is a typical trait, but it also involves risks. If we think of South Sudan, we are faced with a society made up of dozens of tribes, divided into clans.
Before the State, there is belonging to these ethnic groups. So on the one hand there are very strong relationships, on the other however partisan interests prevail.
Is it possible to go further?
We need to help people look at those who belong to a different group with new eyes, overcoming the logic of the enemy and trying to recognize the other as a friend. As a missionary I try to make myself everything to everyone, the Gospel is a sign of great communion because we can all be one in Christ. The great nine-day pilgrimage of over 400 km to prepare for Francis' visit was an attempt to show in the various villages that peace and brotherhood are possible. As? Focusing on young people and education.
From school we can expect the true liberation of a people.
In concrete terms, how can fraternity be built?
In my experience I have understood that hatred and fear often arise from prejudices that arise because we don't know ourselves enough. We must recognize the value of other people's suffering, sometimes pain clouds our vision especially when it is not recognized. Living brotherhood for me therefore means living forgiveness. I understood this after the attack. When they shot me, I thought I was going to die and I told the Lord to take me. Then I woke up and was able to express the first words which were immediately aimed at forgiveness.
Let's be clear, forgiveness is a gift that we receive and that asks us to convert our hearts to God, to the Gospel and to our brothers. It is a path that asks us to build relationships and change the course of history.
In all this, how much does the context influence?
A lot, even if it makes no sense to associate Africa with the idea of poverty. Rather, Africa is impoverished. Let me explain. The continent is very rich in resources, Europe is not. The flaw is in the logic of the world economy which remains in the hands of the great powers. We see the effects. This system, for example, has no interest in putting the education of South Sudanese youth and development at the center. It is the necessary condition for the country to remain subservient to the interests of the richer countries. The truth is that we are the ones who impoverish the people.
Can development therefore be a key to brotherhood?
Yes, but on one condition. Development projects are good and give added economic value if they are born in a strong and responsible community.
Otherwise they can generate envy, division and discord. Real development happens when communities don't feel like beneficiaries: we need to help people get involved. Starting from what we can give and make available and not from what we can receive. This is the key to true and authentic progress.
The issue of migrants in the West has once again become a battleground, the exact opposite of brotherhood. What is the right reading of this phenomenon?
I see a world in motion, as it always has been. It used to be just harder to travel, now it's easier.
People want to move. It would be nice to help them at home, but what do you do in South Sudan when four million people are displaced by war or climate change? These people just want to have a normal life, find a job, provide security for their families. But we must not forget one thing.
There is an Africa that moves abroad, of course, but there is also an Africa that welcomes its children who are forced to leave their countries. South Sudan, for example, welcomes refugees from war-torn Sudan. The phenomenon of immigration takes different forms based on how we govern it. It will scare us if we continue to be dominated by fear, we will see it as a resource if we learn to manage it. Someone talks about ethnic replacement, I would like to talk about ethnic valorization, about the wealth that comes from the encounter.
Edited by the editorial staff
NP October 2023