By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
(Worthy News) - Pope Francis has offered condolences to victims' families after two Catholic nuns were shot and killed along a highway in South Sudan.
Three other people were also reportedly killed in the August 16 attack in the young African nation. Seven other sisters survived the attack, according to Catholic Church sources.
The attack happened while they were returning home to Juba, the capital, Worthy News learned. The murdered Sisters Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba were members of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Juba.
They were returning to Juba after attending the centenary celebrations at a parish in the Eastern Diocese of Torit, Catholics familiar with the situation said.
Priest Samuel Abe of the Juba Archdiocese announced a four-day mourning period before the nuns’ burial over the weekend in the St. Theresa Cathedral in Juba.
“Our sisters were killed in cold blood," said Sister Christine John Amaa of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in published remarks. She recalled that the Killed nuns were part of nine sisters traveling in a mini-bus when gunmen attacked them.
Following the ambush by armed men, “the sisters tried to escape and hid in the surrounding bushes,” she recalled. However, the gunmen managed to find them “and killed them in cold blood,” the nun explained.
Sister Mary Daniel was the headmistress of the Usra Tuna School in Juba. Sister Regina was a tutor and administrator at the Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI) in the Catholic Diocese of Wau.
The third killed person, only identified as Leone, was burnt in the car they were traveling in, Catholic and other sources said.
A fourth person, a boda boda driver, the motorcycle taxi commonly used here, was reportedly killed by a truck while fleeing the scene. The third reported victim was not yet identified in official reports.
The office of the Governor of Eastern Equatoria Province where the attack occurred said Joakino Francis, a former journalist, who was driving a bus ahead of the nuns, escaped the attack with other passengers.
A motive was not immediately established, but security forces and other groups have often targeted Christians amid ongoing tensions in the ethnically divided nation. South Sudan gained independence from mainly Muslim Sudan on July 9, 2011.
While it has a sizeable Christian population, the country of nearly 11 million people is also home to over 60 different major ethnic groups adding to tensions. Almost half the population is either Muslim or Animist, believing that there are spiritual beings in animals, plants, and natural phenomena.
The different groups have found it difficult to cooperate. Civil war broke out in 2013 as the president fell out with his then-vice president in a conflict that displaced some 4 million people.
A power-sharing agreement was signed between the warring parties in August 2018 to bring the five-year civil war to an end.
However, security forces and other groups continued targeting Christians. In 2018, at least ten people, including five children, were reportedly killed in an attack on a college in South Sudan teaching Theology, Education, and Business.
Three guards and five students – one secondary and four primary school pupils – were among the attack victims on the Emmanuel Christian College (ECC) in Goli, in Yei county. A displaced father and son, who had taken refuge there after fleeing Mundri, were also killed, said Christian charity Open Doors International.
The attackers also raped the 14-year-old daughter of a staff member, Open Doors reported at the time. They also vandalized and looted college offices, single-staff houses, classrooms, and the library.
Witnesses reportedly blamed the South Sudanese pro-government forces known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for the murders and abuse. The SPLA was the main force that fought for independence from Sudan in the north in Africa’s longest-running civil conflict.