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ACN News: Monday, 9th July 2012 – SOUTH SUDAN
A Hero for South Sudan
By Bartek Zytkowiak
At a dusty and unpaved crossroads in Torit, South Sudan, there stands a curious new building. Above its' rooftop waves the flag of this new African nation, as does the flag of the Vatican. This is the mausoleum of Father Saturnino Lohure, a Catholic priest and national hero.
Torit is a large town some 120 km southeast of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. There is a landing strip for small aircraft, a market, and even a hotel. The streets come alive at sunrise and bustle well into the night with an array of colourful sights. Meanwhile the scars of a long war still look on: piles of rubble and burnt out buildings such as the cathedral, waiting to be rebuilt.
Father Saturnino's remains were returned here in 2009 amid triumphant ceremonies, from Uganda, where in 1967 he was brutally murdered. In the time between, millions were killed or displaced as a result of a brutal civil war. Fortunately the ideals he died for have finally become reality.
(Most Rev. Akio Johnson Mutek and Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda pray over the remains of Fr Saturnino in the mausoleum in Torit, January 30th, 2009)
Father Saturnino Lohure was a native of the Torit area. He was born in 1921 into the Lotuko tribe. His village of Loronyo has not changed much over the years.
The Comboni missionaries were the first to evangelise Southern Sudan at a time when Egypt and Great Britain held sway over the region. Christian teaching was accepted within the tribe as it harmonised well with locally held convictions like the belief in a God who created all.
Young Saturnino was baptised at age ten. After finishing his primary studies he enrolled in the seminary and was subsequently ordained in 1946. In learning about slavery and the slave trade he saw parallels in the way the south was governed. Jurisdiction over Torit and the South was in the hands of Arab leaders in Khartoum who neglected the needs of Southerners, looking down upon them with prejudice. Gaining “equality” meant having to become a Muslim.
Father Saturnino made it his life’s mission to protect and secure the religious and civil freedoms of his people. When the Sudan gained independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, with permission from the Holy See, he represented Torit in the Khartoum parliament. The debate over a federal system for the South fell apart when the parliament was disbanded by the military. Father Saturnino subsequently went into exile where he became one of the mentors of the quest for independence.
He travelled extensively throughout neighbouring African countries and Europe, passionately campaigning for South Sudan; alerting the world to the plight of his people, who were suffering at the hands of Khartoum’s dictatorial Islamic regime.
Fr. Herald Brock, a Franciscan from the United States who worked in Torit for several years before the 2011 independence, feels that Father Saturnino can be a guiding light for the people here. "He offers an example of untarnished and selfless integrity. He is a hero and role model for the people, priests and politicians of South Sudan – especially at this crucial moment in its history."
(Father Saturnino Lohure)
Ask anyone here and they will say that he is a saint. Father Saturnino is a national hero too, often put on the same pedestal as John Garang, the man who led the Sudanese People's Liberation Army and in 2005 signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the North, ultimately forging a path towards independence.
"We've started arrangements with Archbishop Odama in Uganda. I feel that we could make a process of canonisation and sainthood for this man." says Akio Johnson Mutek, Bishop of Torit, South Sudan.
Claudio Opwonya, a local historian, sees Fr. Saturnino's legacy as an inspiration. "In his footsteps we must walk towards our personal salvation, and the salvation of our people. And the politicians have been challenged. If they are corrupted, we will say: ‘Look at this mausoleum, who is lying there? A great person! We should emulate and not shame him.’"
(Photographs courtesy of Fr Herald J. Brock, CFR)
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