How do people of faith cope with trauma? More specifically, how do religious cope with trauma?
That is a question that has dogged me through two assignments in South Sudan, and the answers are complex, layered and never easy.
When it comes to trauma, hope is hard-earned, Fr. Raimundo Rocha, a Brazilian Comboni missionary who recently completed a seven-year assignment in South Sudan told me when I visited the country earlier this year. The civil war there, now in its fourth year, has left more than 4 million people displaced and has claimed more than 60,000 lives.
In early 2015, I recounted Rocha's experiences after an assignment to South Sudan in 2014 when Rocha spoke to me about his experiences in the Malakal Diocese, in northern South Sudan (NCR, Jan. 16-29, 2015).
In January 2014, Rocha and other Catholics had fled a mission in the town of Leer. Anti-government rebels and armed civilians threatened the mission. Later writing in a Comboni magazine, Rocha recalled, "We felt insecure, vulnerable and unprotected. This situation obliged us to leave the mission. It was a hard decision. We left."
But at a new locale, mercenaries "came through the bush and attacked our group. They came shooting at us. We could hear the sound of bullets flying above our heads as we ran into the bush," Rocha said. "The group was scattered and we had lost contact with one another. Each one thought everyone else would have died."
"Thanks be to God nobody was injured," he wrote, adding, "We regrouped in complete exhaustion and fear as night fell. There is no doubt, if we were alive it is because God worked a miracle that day. There was fear, but no despair. We strongly felt God's presence."