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The Martyrs
Regina, Mary and Veronika. The names of the three nuns killed in South Sudan

Until the end

 Fino  alla fine  DCM-002
04 February 2023

Sister Regina Roba and Sister Mary Daniel Abut were returning from a mass.  It was August 16, 2021. They were celebrating the centenary of the foundation of the parish from which their community had sprung, in the diocese of Torit, South Sudan. A double celebration, because the church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, while the day before, the 15th, had been the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Sister Veronika Rackova, on the other hand, was returning from a hospital. As she often did, being a nurse. This was another 16th of the month, but this time is was May and five years earlier, in 2016. It was night time. She had just accompanied a woman who was about to give birth to a hospital. Having made sure the woman had all the necessary care she needed, she had decided to return home alone. She had insisted that the driver, who had taken her on the outward journey, stop and rest. She did not have to worry, she knew the way and could drive.

Who could have wanted to harm Sister Regina, Sister Mary, and Sister Veronika? Instead, they were killed, and in the same way. Armed groups had blocked the vehicle they were travelling in. And opened fire. Not by accident. They could see they were nuns.

Their blood bathes the land that Pope Francis visited. This is South Sudan, the youngest state in the world, but also one of the most tormented. It has been at war for half a century. First to gain independence, then, since 2013, a civil war that seems interminable. Initially, the warring parties were the Country’s two main ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer. These were then joined by gangs that no one had control over and that sow violence against everyone. The result is misery, mass exoduses, killings, and rapes. To give an idea of the tragedy, in eight years of conflict, more than two million people have been forced to flee the Country, and the vast majority are women and children.  It is estimated that in the last twenty years there have been two million deaths. Those who have survived live in fear, poverty and, if they are male minors, risk being recruited into armed groups. This is a drama that has been forgotten by the West; but not by the missionaries, who continue to stay here too, to share to the full, even to the point of giving blood, the suffering of those who live here. They are the martyrs of today, the witnesses. Like Sister Regina, Sister Mary, Sister Veronika. They were not heroines. Their story resembles that of so many nuns or religious who, unknown to the world, respond to their vocation where God has called them.

Sister Regina and Sister Mary belonged to the Sacred Heart Congregation of the Combonian family. The former came from the diocese of Yei in Central Equatoria and was a nurse. For many years she had served in the parish of Loa, in the Sacred Heart health centre in Juba and in the Alshaba children’s hospital also there too. Then she became the administrator of the Catholic Health Training Institute in the diocese of Wau, a facility that has been training South Sudanese men and women as nurses and midwives since 2010. Despite the armed clashes in that very area, this institute has never closed, even for a single day. Sister Mary, on the other hand, was a teacher. From 2006 to 2018, she was the superior general of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and at the time of her death was headmistress of the Sacred Heart School in Juba, an institute with more than one thousand children.

Originally from South Sudan, both had entered the convent as young people fleeing the war. They had completed their studies in Uganda and then returned to carry out their mission in their own Country.

In the van where they found their deaths, they were with five other nuns and five men. A group of armed men forced them to stop. The men and four nuns started running towards the forest. The attackers opened fire and managed to hit Sister Regina and Sister Mary.

Also in South Sudan, but five years earlier, on May 16, 2016, Sister Veronika Rackova, a Slovakian nun of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, was killed. She too in an ambush, by a patrol of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.

At midnight on what would be her last day, Sr. Veronika, the director of the St. Bakhita’s Medical Centre, a health centre in Yei, received a call from a woman. She asked her to go to her home. She was giving birth, but was having problems. The nun did not hesitate to set off with an ambulance, she went to the woman and took her to the Harvester’s Health Centres.  She then set off home alone so as to allow the driver to rest. On the way back, she was shot. With a fury that adds horror to horror. She died in a Nairobi hospital after several days of agony. She was 58 years old. She had been carrying out her mission in South Sudan for six years, after having spent time in Ghana.