RUMBEK, South Sudan, JULY 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- “A lesser person would never have been able to manage it,” says a coworker of Bishop Cesare Mazzolari, who died Saturday as he celebrated Mass, a week after the independence of the country he had loved as he suffered through its war that killed some 2 million people.
The 74-year-old Italian Comboni missionary had been working in South Sudan since 1981, enduring the nation’s 1983-2005 civil war.
On July 9, he presided over the official opening prayer during the Independence Day celebration at Freedom Square in Rumbek, which made South Sudan the newest nation of Africa.
Regina Lynch, director of projects for the international charity Aid to the Church in Need, spoke of Bishop Mazzolari’s commitment to his work.
“It took somebody with his courage and his energy to respond to a situation which was really very difficult, especially before the  peace agreement,” she said. “A lesser person would never have been able to manage it.”
The charity group helped the bishop to repair churches bombed during the war, rebuild a seminary, construct homes for nuns, and fly to parts of his 22,000 square mile diocese, where poor roads made any other sort of travel impractical.
Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of neighboring Tambura-Yambio Diocese recalled being one of Father Mazzolari’s students in the 1980s in Yambio.
“Bishop Mazzolari carried us through thick and thin,” Bishop Kussala said. “He was a dear man — gracious, gentle and humble. His contribution toward an independent Republic of South Sudan cannot be questioned.”
Cesare Mazzolari was ordained a priest in 1962 in San Diego, California. He worked with black and Hispanic miners for 19 years before being transferred to the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio, South Sudan, at age 44.
He would eventually serve as Comboni Provincial of Southern Sudan for six years. In 1990, he was appointed apostolic administrator of the war-torn Diocese of Rumbek.
According to a statement from the diocese, “He zealously set to work, re-opening missions and negotiating humanitarian assistance and the freedom of very young slaves.”He was consecrated bishop in 1999. The diocese stated: “He took to heart the mandate given to him on that day by the Holy Father, John Paul II, namely, to relieve ‘a people who have suffered too much for too long’ from ‘the anguish of an unjust war’ and ‘to help them to restore the dignity of their human rights.’
“And indeed, his years as bishop of Rumbek reflect his faithfulness to this extraordinary and challenging mission.”