They were founded three decades ago in southern Sudan, and named the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But in a region dramatically affected by the South Sudanese civil war, they are usually known by the bright colour of their habits. To most who know them, they are the “Blue Sisters.”
In the South Sudanese Diocese of Tombura Yambio, Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala has tasked them with providing permanent assistance to the many women, including young girls and teenagers, who have been raped, abused or abandoned amid the violent conflicts that have plagued the region for years.
“There is a major stigma that falls over these mostly young women who are victims of the violence of war,” said Sister Ester (in the photo), local superior for the small community of the four “Blue Sisters” who help with the recovery of some 100 women in a facility in the town of Yambio, next to the diocesan chancery.
“The sisters are an incredible blessing,” said Bishop Hiiboro Kussala. “They were founded by my predecessor, Bishop Joseph Abangite Gasi upon the request of the Sudanese bishops, who realised that a community of African sisters was sorely needed.”
According to Sister Ester, the women living at the shelter vary in age and with regard to their level of trauma. “Several of them remain still in a state of shock, barely aware of their reality,” she said. “Our ministry is to help them to recover from the consequences of the terrible suffering they have endured, through love, patience, prayer and therapy.”
The sisters help some women cope with AIDS, and others to raise their children, many of whom were conceived in rape. According to Sister Ester, “the connection with their children, surprisingly, is a significant part of the healing process, and not part of the trauma, as some tend to believe.”
In 2011, South Sudan became an independent country, but in in December 2013, President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused his former deputy Riek Macho of attempting a coup, unleashing a civil war that Pope Francis himself has tried to stop by inviting both leaders to a recent spiritual retreat at the Vatican. The conflict has generated more than 1.5 million displaced people.
“Our goal is to gradually integrate these women into society with the adequate spiritual and mental stability, and with a clear plan for their future,” said Sister Ester.
The “Blue Sisters,” who only go by their religious names, and whose motto is “With Mary, we bring Christ to the World” were originally organised and directed by Comboni Missionary Sisters, but a decade ago, their community became its own, African-led, institute of diocesan right. (Alejandro Bermude)