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Letter from Juba about Solidarity and Covid-19

Dear Solidarity friends,

What a turbulent and unprecedented time we are living through! The international news is full of stories regarding the Covid 19 pandemic, how it is affecting people, societies and countries, what the various national governments are doing and not doing, and above all how normal life is being suspended, in the name of public health and safety. Within the last few days, we are aware that South Sudan is also taking the initiative and enacting measures to blunt the spread of the pandemic in our land.


I continue with the discipline of self-quarantine in our house in Juba, after my travels abroad. Margaret Sheehan, who also visited Ireland, joined the exercise. Both of us continue to enjoy good health, regularly taking our body temperatures and yesterday received a visit from the government rapid response health team. They were checking on all those recently returned from countries affected by the virus. Decked in gloves, masks and lots of plastic clothing, they assured us that they were there for our benefit. I am unsure of what percentage of international returnees they managed to contact.


On Friday, 20th March, Barbara Paleczny flew home to Canada, having previously decided to bring forward her planned departure from this country. It was all a little sudden and rushed in the end, and I am sure that many of us will regret not having the opportunity to say our goodbyes in person. As a relative newcomer, I will not attempt to offer an appreciation of Barbara’s impact on Solidarity since its foundation in South Sudan. . The little I know of Barbara is that she is a whirlwind of energy, enthusiasm and optimism, something which she brought in overflowing measure to all she came into contact with.  On the same day, we said goodbye to our short term visitor Ha Ngoc from Maryknoll sisters who came to ‘taste and see’ that the Lord is good in South Sudan. We hope that her next visit will be of longer duration. Both arrived safely and without difficulties in their respective countries.


On the same day, the government announced the closure of all educational establishments, including our Teacher Training College and the Health Training Institute. The inservice programme in Bor has also been suspended. This is for an initial period of 30 days. Over the weekend both the CHTI and the STTC were making emergency plans to return their students and the expatriate teachers to their homes. Congratulations to our communities and staff in both places for arranging such a difficult and complicated task in a short period of time. Appreciation also goes to Mr. Benard Okollah for making important practical arrangements. It may take a few days still before the last of the students are able to depart.


On Sunday 22nd March, in St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Kator, Juba, Bishop Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla was installed as the new metropolitan Archbishop of Juba. Thankfully the ceremony went peacefully, with the President, various Vice Presidents and military leaders in attendance. Also present were the bishops of El Obeid, Malakal and the emeritus bishop of Torit, along with the outgoing Apostolic Administrator of Juba and the diocesan administrators of Wau and Rumbek. According to Christy John, who attended the ceremony on Solidarity’s behalf, there were about 200 priests con-celebrating together with a large crowd in the Cathedral. Thankfully, the ceremony went ahead without any counter manifestations or visible opposition.


On Monday, 23rd March, the Archdiocese of Juba ordered the closure of all Churches, Schools and institutions operating within the Archdiocese for a period of one month. At the time of writing I have not heard whether other dioceses have issued similar decrees. Later that evening the government announced the closure of Juba international airport to all international flights. We are now in effective lock down, with exceptions being made for humanitarian aid and emergency landings only.


Today, we dispatched three quarters of our new pastoral team to Kit. They left in a spirit of excitement and anticipation, even though the challenges are very many for them both in Kit and in their work as a pastoral team. This is especially true as the centre is effectively closed until further notice, due to the government’s precautionary health measures. We are very aware that Sr Jane of the Sacred Heart Sisters is still in Uganda, finishing the last of her academic requirements before coming this way to complete the Kit team. We wish her a speedy arrival.


The above is by way of information. With so much happening in such a short space of time, it is good to keep others informed. Please can we keep in touch over the coming days, weeks and months, as we try to sit out this pandemic. I think that we will begin to enter into a different mode of presence to others over the coming period. This will be a challenge to us all. We may need to pay particular attention to our individual and communal psychological and spiritual well being. We will have less of the regular activities to occupy ourselves with, and may even have a more distant relationship with the people we were sent to serve. Having more time on our hands could be an unwelcome novelty to some, while for others we may have to examine how we use this time. All this is simply to say that we will need to be more open to each other, sharing how we are living and helping others to adjust to this new situation.  I invite our community animators and indeed the new members of our pastoral team to reflect on how we, as individuals, as communities and as SOLIDARITY,  can live this new period of unexpected change in our lives.


We will all be affected by the onset of this virus. Some of us may fall sick, some of us may battle successfully to remain free of it. We will all know many others who will fall sick and become critically ill. Let us use this present time as one of preparation for the huge unknown that will come our way,


May the Good Lord bless us and keep us,

Jim Greene, M.Afr.

Executive Director