For 25 years hundreds of lay catechists have evangelized the rural areas of the Nuer territory (South Sudan) without the support of missionaries or ecclesial institutions. They have founded hundreds of self-sufficient Catholic communities from the economic, ministerial and missionary point of view. The Nuer territory is very vast and marshy, yet most of the mission trips were made on foot. They have challenged many obstacles in their missionary efforts:

1. The new Nuer territory is very large and marshy, yet the vast majority of the missionary trips were made on foot.

2. The war has put them in constant danger, in fact our parish has 16 martyr catechists: 6 during the war of independence (1983-2005), 10 during the first civil war in South Sudan (2013-2018), including two youth workers and a seminarian.

3. Some lived in captivity because the Nuer territory was considered a “Protestant zone” and Catholics were not allowed to enter it. In fact, during the colonial period the English had divided Sudan into “religious zones” so that one religion or church could not carry out any activities in the area of another.

4. The lack of means and resources for evangelization because of the poverty of the Nuer people due to the war and the absence of ecclesiastical institutions to support their missionary work.

The catechists used two very simple but effective methods. First of all, they made continuous missionary journeys. When they arrived in a village, a family would welcome them. Hospitality is a great value in the culture of Nuer. They began to preach in the house where they were welcomed and in public places, and little by little people joined them. Then they formed their catechumenate and this group was given a more formal formation. On Sundays they celebrated the liturgy of the Word under a tree; many curious people went to see, and after several Sundays they joined the catechumenate. Another method was to choose a missionary family and send them to live in another village where the Church had not been founded. When they arrived at the place, the missionary family would start praying the rosary every day in their home, on Sundays they would do the liturgy of the Word, after which they would cross the city in uniform, carrying Catholic flags, playing drums and singing Catholic songs. People who were curious asked them why they behaved differently from the rest of the ordinary people. In response they told them about their Catholic faith and how Jesus had transformed their lives. When they had a good number of catechumens, they called an itinerant catechist whose ministry was to teach and organize the new ecclesial community.

When the catechumens were ready for baptism, a catechist would come and be entrusted with the ministry of baptism. Upon his arrival he organized a visit to the catechumens’ homes to identify and burn the objects of the old religion as a sign of their conversion. In a solemn celebration of the Word of God the new Catholics were baptized. Catechists and Catholics from other communities participated in the celebration and celebrated the new community that had been born.

Then they elected ministers from among the newly baptized people for the services needed to strengthen and grow the new community. They chose a catechist to continue teaching the Catholic faith, another catechist to support; a third catechist-teacher to teach the children so that people could read and write in their own language and read the Bible. They also chose guides for the youth, formed youth groups and liturgical singing and dancing groups. They also chose guides for women in the Legion of Mary group; some catechists to be itinerant missionaries and a couple of missionary families. Some families were also chosen for the ministry of hospitality and formed a committee to build their chapel.

In short, they established communities and ministries with the capacity to develop and strengthen themselves. Missionary communities that from birth have sent itinerant missionaries and missionary families to other communities. Self-sufficient communities, since all missionary activities were financed with their own resources: sending missionaries, starting and strengthening communities, building chapels and structures necessary for pastoral work, supporting their catechists, caring for guests, drums, uniforms, flags, schools to teach reading and writing in Nuer, etc.. The catechists formed communities with a clear Catholic identity: they always prayed to God for the Pope and to ask him to send missionaries, because the Catholic Church was not complete without the Eucharist. Finally, they went as far as Nairobi to ask the Combonians – who had the provincial house there at that time of war – to send priests to celebrate the Eucharist.

The first of the Combonians who arrived in Leer, the center of all the missionary operations of the catechists, to establish a missionary presence, was deeply surprised by what he found, by the missionary work done by the catechists who, moved by the power of the Spirit, had created an entire local self-sufficient, ministerial and missionary Church. They understood that the Holy Spirit worked wonders through the catechists and it would have been a great mistake to ignore everything they had found. They understood that the people of Nuer are intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, zealous in their commitment, capable of leading the Church alone and sending missionaries.

Faced with this reality, the missionaries chose, as a methodology, to accompany lay leaders and train them to continue to be protagonists of their own evangelization and to promote self-sufficient, ministerial and missionary communities. They also chose to walk with the people at their own pace, speed and style. They adopted a simple lifestyle, close to the people, using simple means for missionary work and, like the catechists, they traveled throughout the parish on foot, walking as catechists did and continue to do.

For personal and community reflection:

– What strikes me about this experience of collaboration? Why?

– What does this experience provoke in me? For what reason?

– What does it say to us as a community?


Evangelization is as fundamental for the Church as water is for the human body. It is not true Church if it does not evangelize, hence the urgency of St. Paul: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize! (1 Cor 9:16). “Evangelization is not a mere function,” stressed Pope Francis (Homily 09/09/2016), it is rather its own identity, it is a Church on the move, outgoing missionary evangelizing: “The outgoing Church is the community of missionary disciples that prevails, that gets involved, that accompanies, that bears fruit and that celebrates” (Evangelii gaudium 24). The diocese is therefore a community formed by evangelized and evangelizing communities (cf. Document Puebla 647).

The evangelizing mission of the Church generally develops in two dimensions from which derives a great diversity of ministries:

1. The prophetic proclamation of the joyful news of salvation in Jesus Christ which transforms people to live a full life.

2. The prophetic denunciation of all that oppresses, enslaves and denigrates human beings in order to build a better world where all human beings can live with the dignity of sons and daughters of God.

The work of evangelization is realized through a great diversity of ministries raised up by the Spirit according to the reality and particular needs of the diocese, the parish, the movement or ecclesial service, or the pastoral approach. For this reason discernment is a fundamental element of evangelization in order to read the signs of the times and to understand what kind of pastoral ministry is relevant and useful for a specific time and place (cf. Rom 12:3-8).

The testimony of the catechists of the parish of St Joseph the Worker in the Diocese of Malakal in South Sudan illustrates and teaches us that discernment is fundamental to evangelization. They made pastoral decisions based on their discernment. For example, they thought that three ministries were essential for their missionary work, fundamental for carrying out conversions and giving birth to new communities:

1. First, the traveling catechists1;

2. second, the missionary families, whose ministry was the proclamation of the kerygma. A very important ministry for a people who have not heard the Gospel and do not know Jesus.

3. Third, the master catechists whose task was to teach the Catholic community to read and write in a foreign language so that they could come into direct contact with the Bible and also that there were more people who could be catechists with the ability to read, meditate and preach the Word of God. It was an essential ministry to provide people with the necessary tools to continue to grow in faith through reading and meditating on the Word of God and also to ensure that more people could become evangelizers, with different ministries: itinerant catechists, faith teacher catechists, Nuer language teacher catechists, assistant catechists, choir directors, etc. All these ministries required a person who could read and write in their mother tongue.

The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35) shows us that discernment has always been a way of being Church and evangelizing from the beginning. In every situation and context it is necessary to create the means and moments for this discernment, the most common being the diocesan assembly, the parish assembly, the meeting of the Pastoral Council, the meetings of groups sharing common ministries, the meetings of particular groups, etc. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…. All this is done by the one and the same Spirit, distributing to each one the gifts as he wishes”. (1 Cor 12, 7.11).

Further Readings

Francis. (2013). Evangelii gaudium, numbers: 20-24; 111-134.

CELAM. (2007). Aparecida – Concluding Document, numbers: 143-153; 184-224.

González Galarza, F. (2002). With the fuerza of the Espíritu Santo. La maravillosa historia del inicio de la Iglesia y la evangelización del pueblo nuer de Sudán, Ciudad de México, Ediciones Combonianas.

González G., F.G. (2016). An Amazing Story. The beginning of the evangelisation and the Catholic Church among the rural Western Nuer. Nairobi. Nigrizia Onlus Foundation.


1 Cor 12, 1.4-11

1 As for the gifts of the Spirit, brethren, I will not leave you in ignorance.

There are different charisms, but only one is the Spirit; there are different ministries, but only one is the Lord; there are different activities, but only one is God, who works all in all. Each one is given a particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good: one, through the Spirit, is given the language of wisdom; another, by the same Spirit, the language of knowledge; one, in the same Spirit, faith; another, in the one Spirit, the gift of healing; one the power of miracles; another the gift of prophecy; another the gift of discerning spirits; another the variety of tongues; another the interpretation of tongues. But all these things are worked by the one and the same Spirit, distributing them to each one as he will.

Suggestions for personal prayer

There is a diversity of ministries:

– the source is the same: the Holy Spirit,

– each baptized has received one or more gifts,

– do you know all the gifts you’ve received? How do you use them?

– Do you know the gifts that others have received? How do they use them?

– All talents without equal in dignity because they are all services, no gift is greater than another,

– are as complementary to each other as the various parts of the body.

– The Church is one, but the ecclesial ministries are many and different,

– do not belong to us and are not for personal gain,

– are all for the common good and the service of God’s people,

– are to be used in the Church’s evangelizing mission,

– In the end Jesus will ask us to account for the talents received (Mt 25:14-30).


1. At a time of community prayer let us share the fruits of our personal prayer to enrich each other.

2. Points for common reflection:

– How can we help each other discover or understand the gifts and ministries that each member of the community has received?

– What spaces for community discernment can we use (create) to reflect on how best to put these gifts at the service of the common good, the kingdom, the people of God?

– With the particular gifts we have received, how can we be part of a project of pastoral evangelization diocesan, parish, community?

– With our Comboni charism and the gifts and ministries that come with it, how can we participate in a diocesan or provincial evangelization project?

– What is our concrete and realistic commitment that we can put into practice?

Suggestions for the celebration of the Eucharist

= Eucharistic Prayer: V/c. Jesus model of charity, Good Samaritan.

= In the chapel: somewhere prepare a place with the symbols of the Holy Spirit, baptism and objects used in evangelization.

= Offertory: each person presents a symbol representing the ministries he or she carries out.

1 Cf. EG 1: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and the whole life of those who meet Jesus. Those who let themselves be saved by Him are freed from sin, from sadness, from inner emptiness, from isolation. With Jesus Christ joy is always born and reborn”.

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