From Limerick’s Moyross to the South Sudan Maban region

Nick Rabbitts

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Nick Rabbitts

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nick@limerickleader.ie

From Limerick’s Moyross to the South Sudan Maban region

Fr Tony O'Riordan

THE popular former Parish Priest of Moyross, Fr Tony O’Riordan has vowed to continue his missionary work in Sudan – despite a civil war ripping through the country.

Fr O’Riordan, who served in Corpus Christi between 2011 and 2016, has swapped the streets of Moyross for Maban County in South Sudan, tackling “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our  time”.​

Leading the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the priest heads a team of 100 staff overseeing a school building project and teacher training programme.

In Maban County is one of the world’s most remote refugee camps – home to a massive 150,000 people.

The East-Central Africa country, which only gained independence from Sudan seven years ago, is blighted by poverty and civil war.

The conflict, which has claimed 300,000 lives since it started in 2013, is primarily between forces of the government and opposition forces.

And Fr O’Riordan was right on the front-line of this last week, as 2,000 people set out to cause mayhem.

It is a “miracle”, he said, no lives were lost, with his compound one of the few to escape harm.

Amid all this, it would be easy for Fr O’Riordan to join the 500-or-so humanitarian workers who have been evacuated from the Maban region.

But speaking to the Limerick Leader through social media (telecommunications in the region are poor), Fr O’Riordan is determined to stay.

He said: “What makes me more determined is the determination of the refugees and the people of Maban. For example, one young man, Simon, training to be a teacher with us has had his education interrupted three times now by war and violence.

“He, like so many others, wants education so badly, he is considering walking to Ethiopia where he feels he could continue to go to the school. This is an amazing level of commitment: our commitment, and mine must match his.”

Speaking about the attack on the camp, Fr O'Riordan said he first received word on his personal walkie-talkie.

“News was filtering through on the radio of serious damage being done to property, buildings, and warehouses were being set on fire, cars were being trashed, and property was being looted,” he recalled.

He contacted UN soldiers from Rwanda to extract them from the camp.

Fr O’Riordan said the attackers attempted to breach his compound’s fence, made of zinc metal sheeting.

Eventually, it was four members of the parish council who convinced the violent mob to retreat.

The priest’s immediate thought: “protect my staff”.

He has been heartened by messages of support from people back in Moyross, saying: “Of course I miss home, and Limerick and Moyross. But I feel very supported, especially by the people of Moyross, many of whom send me regular messages of support.”

Fr O’Riordan believes there is a “connection” between the two communities, with folks on Limerick’s northside even organising fundraising.

Asked what lesson he has transferred from his time in Moyross, he says succinctly: “the strength of the people”.

The Cork-born priest said it remains unclear what prompted this latest attack.

“There are a number of investigations. Politics here is complex, and there are many hidden political motives I’m sure. South Sudan is a very risky place for humanitarian workers,” he concluded.