African Witness: Bishop Ireneo Wien Dud

Wien Dud was born in 1912, son of Dud Akot, the chief of the Jur. His father was the first chief of the South to open up the area of Mbili to the missionaries. At the age of ten Wien began his Christian journey by joining the catechumenate at Mbili parish and received the sacrament of Baptism on 8 June1923. He was given the name Ireneo, a Greek name meaning bearer of peace, a name which truly identified his future role of unifier and peacemaker.

As he grew up in age and understanding of the Christian calling, his admiration for the life and the ministry rendered by the missionaries also increased. The missionary zeal for evangelisation was to be his trademark all through his life. Initially, Ireneo had desired to become a member of the Comboni Missionaries, but such a step was not possible since the policy of the Church was to promote local diocesan clergy.

Once ordained a priest, Fr. Ireneo started his own ministry in the mission of Raffili and in 1947 he joined the missionary team entrusted with the responsibility of founding the new mission of Mayen. He organised a very powerful team of catechists who did great work and whose dedication was known to many in the region.

Meanwhile, the wind of independence had started stirring up Africa. The colonial empires were shaken to their foundation. The 1st January 1956 the Sudan became independent. This socio-political acceleration of history had its bearings also on the Christian missions of all denominations present in Sudan. It became clear that the Churches had to send signals that they were ready to hasten the process of Sudanisation in the Church leadership. For this very reason, the Holy See, in July 1955, erected the Apostolic Vicariate of Rumbek. The Bishop of this new Vicariate was Ireneo Dud.

Bishop Dud’s diocese was immense and he only had twelve local priests to run the parishes of the diocese. The situation was difficult on various fronts. Since independence, a guerrilla warfare in the south had started making the position of the Church somehow delicate. On 17 November 1958, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abboud, Commander in Chief of the armed forces, with a military coup overthrew the government in Khartoum, suspended the constitution, dismissed Parliament and declared martial law.

His policy towards the Church became increasingly hostile since he and his government felt that the Church was the main obstacle to the Arabisation and Islamisation of the south. Bishop Dud had to work in this very difficult situation of extreme isolation from the rest of the world, almost under house arrest.

The relationship with his own ministers and people was kept under strict police control. He had to keep balance between a minimum of relationship between the government and the Church and the people and also the relationship with the guerrillas themselves. In 1960, he was transferred from Rumbek to the more important diocese of Wau. From Wau Bishop Dud could have a broader influence on the situation of the south.

Dud had also to be concerned with the physical safety of his Christians. Some of them were tortured and others murdered, such as Fr. Barnaba Deng, one of the first Sudanese Comboni Missionary, who was gunned down by the military regime on 23 August 1965.

The life of Bishop Dud took a new turn on 12 December 1974, the day Pope Paul VI took the historical decision of establishing the Sudan Episcopal Conference. For the occasion three more Sudanese bishops were appointed and two new archdioceses were erected: Khartoum for the north and Juba for the south. Bishop Dud was transferred to Juba with the title of Archbishop. He had the important task of reorganising the Church in the South after the Addis Ababa Agreement of 28 February 1972 which brought the civil war to an end. Archbishop Dud, together with the other bishops, had to preside over the reorganisation of the Church in the south in the new atmosphere of peace. Archbishop Dud approached the difficult process with some important criteria in his mind.

First, the Sudanese Church had come of age with the establishment of local priests, sisters and lay ministers in posts of responsibility and decision making. Second, to foster solidarity and co-operation among all Churches. Third, the internal needs of the Church, as far as personnel and money were concerned, were not to prevent the Sudanese Church from participating in the missionary task of the Church to evangelise Africa and the rest of the world. Archbishop Dud encouraged missionary animation activities. Finally, the formation of local pastoral agents.  The Church must dedicate time and energies to uphold the challenge of offering local agents an adequate pastoral preparation.

Archbishop Dud remained in Juba until July 1982, when due to his increasing poor health, he submitted his resignation to the Pope. Bishop Paolino Lukudu succeeded him in the leadership of the Archdiocese. Soon after, he went back to his town of origin, Wau, where he spent the last six years of his life. During this time he kept on doing what he had done at the beginning of his priestly ministry in the late 40’s and early 50’s: giving time to people asking for the sacrament of reconciliation, counselling and visiting the sick, caring for anyone in need.

As a young priest, Bishop Dud had always been a kind hearted person, used to spending hours in prayer interceding for the people and reaching out to anyone calling on him. He lived the whole of his life loving people and struggling to keep the various pastoral agents together. Dud was a real apostle of unity and solidarity among people. When he died in April 1988, crowds of people attended his funeral. He was buried in the Cathedral of Wau and from there he keeps interceding for his fellow Christians and his nation. (Francesco Pierli)