Jesuit priest murdered in South Sudan

Frs Pascal, Omondi, Victor (centre), Kizito and Paul Chitnis
Frs Pascal, Omondi, Victor (centre), Kizito and Paul Chitnis

Jesuits around the world have condemned the murder of a Kenyan Jesuit priest in Cueibet in South Sudan’s Gok State.

Fr Victor-Luke Odhiambo, 62, was killed in the early hours of 15th November when six unknown assailants attacked the Daniel Comboni Jesuit Residence in Cueibet where he lived. The three other Jesuits in the community were in bed at the time of the attack and were unharmed though deeply shocked. Fr Victor was in the TV room when the gunmen broke into the compound. When his companions heard gunshots, they raised the alarm and the killers ran off.

Paul Chitnis, Director of Jesuit Missions, had been with Fr Victor last week during a monitoring visit to South Sudan.  He said: “I am devastated to hear of Victor’s death and condemn unreservedly the senseless loss of life. The Jesuits are called to be on “the frontier” and Cueibet was absolutely the front line. He was deeply committed to the people of South Sudan and to training teachers who could educate and inspire the millions of children in South Sudan who are unable to go to school.”

Fr Victor-Luke was the principal of Mazzolari Teachers’ College in Cueibet. During his visit to Cueibet, Paul Chitnis discussed the centre with Fr Victor-Luke:

“I was deeply impressed with Victor’s passion for his work and his vision for the College. He took great pride in showing me the plans for the centre and we discussed ways in which Jesuit Missions could help. There has been considerable violence in many parts of South Sudan in recent years including Cueibet. Ironically a peace agreement was celebrated in the country just a few days ago.  Yet Cuiebet is a remote and immensely challenging place in which to live and work. As we drove along the road, Victor pointed out several places where people had been massacred in recent years. That Victor continued to work there despite this says everything about his Jesuit vocation and his personal courage.”

Jesuit Missions is committed to supporting the work of the Jesuits in South Sudan. It supports the pastoral work of the Jesuits, a vocational training centre and work with refugees in Maban.

Mr Chitnis said: “I have visited South Sudan many times both during the war and after the country became independent. It is surely one of the poorest and most tragic countries on earth. On behalf of the Jesuits in Britain, Jesuit Missions will continue to support the Jesuits working there and to accompany the millions of desperately poor people in that country who long for a better future.

Fr Victor’s death means that the Society of Jesus has lost one of its finest men; the people of South Sudan have lost a determined defender of the poor; and the East African Province has lost one of its members and a friend to all. Sadly, the Church has gained a martyr.”

Fr Victor was one of the first East African Jesuits to be trained in Europe.  He studied at Milltown Park Dublin in the early 80s along with fellow Jesuits Paul Nicholson, John Dardis, and Fratern Masawe.  He was ordained in 1987. He went on to study for a PhD in Education in London between 2005 and 2008. He was a member first of the Brixton and then of the Wimbledon community.

Fr Paul Nicholson SJ said, “Victor was an extraordinary man – a poet who became a head teacher, a great loss to the Society and to the people in South Sudan whom he served.”

Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ said “Fr Victor has given his life for the people of South Sudan, the sons and daughters of God following Jesus. Our merciful Father will receive him with open heart. Let us pray also for those who killed Fr. Victor and attacked the school, and for those who promote violence. May the Lord change their hearts.”

A suspect was arrested this morning and remains in custody. The motive for the killing is not known.  This is the second murder of a Kenyan clergyman serving in South Sudan. Last year, Bishop Joel Mwendwa of the Christ Ministry, was killed in Juba.

South Sudan has known conflicts for many years and remains the most fragile state in the world. According to the United Nations and its agencies, the combination of armed conflict, intercommunal violence, disease outbreaks and economic crisis has killed over 50,000 civilians, displaced one in every four South Sudanese, made over 2 million refugees and impeded the country’s progress since independence in 2011. Presently, 7.5 million South Sudanese urgently need humanitarian assistance and protection.

The violence in South Sudan is largely attributed to antagonistic competition for power, interclan rivalry enshrined in a revenge culture and, most importantly, proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

To address the protracted situation in South Sudan,  the Jesuits of Africa and Madagascar have released a press statment that not only denounces the tragedy of violence and conflict, but is also intended to serve as a tool for international advocacy on behalf of South Sudan.

Read the press statement