RUMBEK, South Sudan, JULY 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Just one week after welcoming the independence of South Sudan where he had been a missionary for three decades, Bishop Cesare Mazzolari of Rumbek died Saturday while celebrating Mass.
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.
“A week later,” a communiqué from the diocese announced, “God called home his faithful servant during Eucharist, at the moment of consecration. Surely, it was a privilege from God for Bishop Cesare Mazzolari to die in the presence of Jesus during the Eucharist, in his own cathedral and among his priests, religious and faithful.”
The faithful of the diocese expressed “deep and heartfelt appreciation of his dedicated service and lifelong faithful witness to the Gospel among the people of South Sudan.”
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 the diocesan statement, “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.”
The bishop established schools and coordinated health care services, seeking donations from around the world. He made reconciliation a priority and was “always optimistic and courageous in the face of often apparently insurmountable obstacles.”
The faithful recalled that “evangelization was at the heart of his ministry, which was nourished by his commitment to a deep life of prayer. Like St. Paul, Bishop Mazzolari spent his life at the service of the Gospel, always assuring us that God was journeying with the people of South Sudan.”
“Over the years,” the communiqué said, “we have been inspired by his dreams for the people of South Sudan, his pastoral initiatives, his extraordinary administrative ability, his competence in leadership, his energy for fundraising and development, his simple lifestyle and humility, his tenacity and patience and his unwavering dedication to and confidence in God. … We are indeed privileged to have known him.”