It's not just a boat, but a symbol. The symbol of a new life on "more peaceful waters," leaving behind hatred, violence, revenge, and revendications. On his last day in South Sudan, Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, blessed a boat that will serve migrants forced to cross the Nile. It is named Josephine Bakhita, after the saint from Darfur who was once a slave and is venerated as the patron saint of all victims of old and new slavery. The local Caritas will use the wooden and iron boat to transport refugees from neighboring Sudan. That country has been devastated by a ten-month conflict that has triggered a humanitarian emergency of enormous proportions, with 25 million people in need of assistance and protection, according to UN estimates.
The boat will help people fleeing the country cross the vast river where dangers and obstacles are rife. It will sail from the Renk border to Malakal. "It will be a boat that leaves the storm of conflict, violence, hatred, and vengeance behind, and sails on more peaceful waters where people can live together as brothers and sisters," said Czerny with visible emotion during the ceremony in Juba port. This was the last act performed by the Cardinal of a journey that began on February 2 to reiterate the Pope's appeal for peace, one year after the ecumenical "pilgrimage" that the Pope undertook together with the Anglican Primate Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.
Visits to Renk and Malakal
Various stops marked the Prefect’s visit. The last one was in Malakal to celebrate Mass on the World Day against Human Trafficking, during which the Cardinal denounced false "gods" or "idols," such as greed for money and power, hunger for control and dominance, exclusion resulting from nationalism and tribalism, all evils which still destroy the lives of others and have "devastated" South Sudan itself. In Malakal, Czerny was able to see and appreciate the work of welcome done by the diocese and the local community, despite limited local resources. In Renk, the cardinal visited the reception center for returnees and Sudanese refugees. In the capital Juba, where he also presided over a Eucharistic celebration in the Cathedral of Santa Teresa last Sunday, the head of the Dicastery wanted to seal this pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Pope with a symbolic gesture, a sign of the Church's great attention for the emergency, and so often the tragedy, that migrations entail.
Continue the mission
Before his reflection, Czerny chose to dwell on the chosen Gospel of Luke for the occasion (Lk 8:22-25) about the storm calmed by Jesus. A passage that "helps us appreciate the importance of this boat because we can think that the storm at sea is a symbol, a representation of the terrible conflicts and sufferings that South Sudan has had," said the Cardinal. Jesus, on the boat, he added, calmed the storm so that the disciples could reach the shore. This is a message that we can and must "continue with our mission, our journey, and our duties."
Sign of God's healing presence
The Josephine Bakhita boat "will do the work of the Church," Czerny added: "We are very grateful for the good it will do. And we are grateful now for God's blessing so that this boat can always serve the purpose for which it was built and rebuilt, and truly be a sign of God's love, a sign of the presence of Jesus, his healing presence, of Jesus among us, calming all the storms that disturb us."