Two gunmen broke into the home of Bishop-elect Christian Carlassare in Rumbek, South Sudan, early Monday, shooting him twice in the legs.
The assault occurred sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m. and is believed to have been meant as a warning to the prelate, who is being transported to Nairobi for treatment.
On March 8, Pope Francis appointed Carlassare bishop of Rumbek, and he is due to be ordained bishop on May 23 to become, at age 43, the youngest Italian bishop in the world.
Prior to his present post, Carlassare served as a missionary and spent fifteen years working with members of the Nuer, the second-largest ethnic group in the country.
The Diocese of Rumbek, however, which Carlassare now leads, has a Dinka majority — the largest ethnic group in the country — and his fellow missionaries have speculated that it may be his association with a rival tribe that earned the bishop the enmity of his assailants.
Local police moved quickly Monday morning, arresting 24 people in connection with the assault.
“The police and other security forces have arrested several people … and more arrests will be made because we need to know exactly what happened in the Catholic Church of the diocese of Rumbek,” Information Minister William Kocji Kerjok declared.
“We must put an end once and for all to violence against church leaders” in South Sudan, and “we are working in this direction,” Kerjok said while condemning the “targeted attack” against the bishop.
“This is not the first time that church leaders have been targeted,” he said, recalling that “two years ago one of the pastors was killed in Cuei-bet county and this time they launched an attack on the new bishop.”
According to the minister, the gunmen knocked at the entrance of the bishop-elect’s home and began shooting at the door until it opened. They apprehended Carlassare, ordered him to sit down, and shot him twice in the lower legs.
The bishop-elect is believed to be out of danger but has lost a considerable amount of blood and will require a transfusion, according to reports.
Carlassare phoned the head of his religious order, the Comboni Missionaries in Italy, asking that they pray. He said, “Pray not so much for me but for the people of Rumbek who suffer more than I do.”