ROME – Nearly two months after being tapped as the new leader of the Diocese of Rumbek in South Sudan, Bishop Christian Carlassare was attacked and shot by unidentified gunmen Sunday night, and is recovering.
According to Nigrizia, the official magazine of the Comboni Missionary Order to which Carlassare belongs, the assault happened the night between April 25 and 26, just after midnight, when two armed men broke into the bishop’s house and shot him in the legs.
Carlassare is alive and is being treated at a hospital in Rumbek, but due to the significant blood loss, he will soon be transferred to Juba and then to Nairobi, Kenya, where he will undergo a transfusion.
He telephoned family himself to tell them about the incident and to assure them of his safety. In a conversation with the head of the Italian branch of the Comboni Missionaries, Carlassare told his order to pray “not so much for me but for the people of Rumbek, who are suffering more than me.”
This attack comes just two months after Carlassare was appointed to Rumbek, and less than a month since he was formally welcomed to the diocese in an April 16 ceremony.
At 43, Carlassare is one of the Catholic Church’s youngest bishops whose entire priesthood has been spent serving in one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous areas.
Born in Schio in the Italian province of Vicenza in 1977, Carlassare was appointed the new bishop for the Diocese of Rumbek, South Sudan in March – a post which has been vacant for the past 10 years, after its former leader, the late Bishop Cesare Mazzolari, died in 2011.
Both Carlassare, 43, and Mazzolari belong to the Comboni Missionary order.
Carlassare made his profession with the order in 2003, after completing a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and one in missiology from the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.
A year after his ordination as a priest in 2004, he moved to South Sudan, where he has served as a pastor in various places and held a number of leadership roles within the Comboni Missionary order. After Mazzolari’s death in 2011, he was appointed as diocesan coordinator in Rumbek, a post he held until being named bishop of the diocese.
South Sudan has long been a priority for Pope Francis, who has promised to visit the country if its leaders are able to implement a peace agreement which has been delayed, and which would end a years-long violent conflict that has caused one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world.
Speaking to Nigrizia in a previous interview about his appointment, Carlassare said his hope for the future of South Sudan was the country’s youth.
“I dream that young people in South Sudan can realize their dreams, that they will not be forced to take up arms or leave the country, that they can study and find a job that builds the future and which gives stability to the country,” he said in the interview.
He also spoke of the need to empower women in the country, saying, “I dream that the young girls of South Sudan can emancipate themselves and not be totally dependent on the heads of their families, and that they can make their own choices in freedom.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen