Church Without a Building

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A Maryknoll priest serves displaced people at U.N. camp in war-wracked South Sudan

|| By Michael Bassano, M.M., photos by Paul Jeffrey

On the move.

These past few months in the U.N. camp have been moments of change and transition. The camp has grown to accommodate 48,000 people, with new additions to the camp just completed. Most of our Catholic community moved to this new location, where they were given new tents for their families.

The place for the Catholic Church to be built has not yet been decided by the authorities, so our people wait in hopeful anticipation.
At the moment we are celebrating the Eucharist in the World Vision School compound in the new section of the camp. All the tribes—Nuer, Shilluk and Dinka—celebrate together with all the choirs, dancers and people united in faith and prayer.

The remaining spoon

It was a day of heavy rain, with lots of mud all over. When the rain ceased, I decided to put on my boots and take a walk to see how the people had weathered the storm. There was so much water and mud that it was difficult to walk. But I kept moving and finally arrived to visit the family of Julia. The tent where they lived had leaked and there was mud inside, but they managed to clean up everything as best they could and invited me in for a glass of water. I started to take off my boots, but they told me to just come in and sit down.

After greeting the family and drinking the water, I stood up to leave, but they said I must have lunch with them. A big bowl of pasta with cheese and four spoons was placed in the center of us all, and the children and I were invited to eat. I was given one spoon and the children were to use the other spoons to share the food. When only my spoon remained, the mother said I was to eat the rest of the pasta alone. I passed the spoon around and we all ate what was left. How grateful I felt to be among people who make the kingdom of heaven visible on earth.

UN Camp, south Sudan, Father Bassano

Father Mike Bassano comforts a displaced man in a makeshift Catholic chapel in a U.N. camp in Malakal, South Sudan.

Living ancestors

Gabriel Chol was scheduled to do the Scripture reading on the International Day of Peace in September. As the ceremony was about to start, we were notified that Gabriel had taken ill and gone to the hospital. When the celebration concluded, we went to visit him. We were told he had severe malaria. We prayed together with him and his family. A few hours later, he died. Gabriel was only 50 years old and left behind his wife and three children.

The next day we went to the camp cemetery, where Gabriel was buried in one large grave with three other people who had died, including a 3-year-old boy, who also succumbed to malaria. Three days later we held a memorial service for Gabriel and prayed an African prayer:

The dead are never dead.

We hear them in the whispering of the wind and in all
of creation.

They live in our hearts and watch over and protect us.
They live on in our families and especially in the newly born who carry their name.

Maryknoll Father Mike Bassano blesses Veronica Bol, a displaced woman who just gave birth to twins, in a hospital inside a U.N. base in Malakal, South Sudan. (CNS/P. Jeffrey/South Sudan)

Being vulnerable

On a Sunday morning in October when I was celebrating the Eucharist with the Catholic community, I had a cold and felt a little weak. By the end of the celebration, my energy was drained and I sat down to rest. The women of the Legion of Mary were very concerned and brought me some fruit juice to drink. I felt better after taking the drink and walked back home.

On Monday morning, Stephen, one of our catechists, came to visit me and said we were going to have lunch all week at the small tent home of Veronica, one of the Legion of Mary members. I resisted at first, but Stephen said Veronica had been given money from the church collection on Sunday to take care of me to make sure I was in good health.

I accepted their love and concern, realizing that life is about both giving and receiving.

Being Church

The Catholic community came together to celebrate the feast of Remembering the Dead on Nov. 2. We hadn’t yet been given a place to erect a church and were still using the World Vision School compound to worship on Sundays. But the Day of the Dead was on a Monday. school was in session, so we decided to celebrate in an open area near the market.

All those who came sang and prayed together as people passed by, stopping curiously to see what was going on. We were indeed the Church as the People of God without need of a building.

Featuerd Image: Maryknoll Father Mike Bassano dances with members of a Catholic dance group at a U.N. base in South Sudan.


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About the author

Michael Bassano, M.M.

Father Michael Bassano comes to the African Region of Maryknoll after serving with Maryknoll in Chile and Thailand. Born in Binghamton, New York, he was ordained for the Diocese of Syracuse in 1975. He became a Maryknoll associate in 1987 and was assigned to the Society's Chile region for 10 years, where he ministered to the families of detained and disappeared peoples in the southern district of Santiago. Father Mike took his final oath to Maryknoll in 1998 and was assigned to Bangkok, Thailand, working with HIV/AIDS patients, as well as abused and orphaned children in the slums of Khlong Toey. Currently, he ministers to people in a U.N. camp in Malakal, South Sudan, who have been displaced by civil war.