Praying with the Southern Cross – a Maltese Missionary’s harrowing experience

Fr Joseph Pullicino, a Maltese Jesuit who has followed his missionary vocation almost since he was ordained, has seen all sorts. Currently stationed in Ethiopia, Fr Joseph was in Tanzania, Zambia, Zaire and Sudan.  In the various African countries where he practiced his mission, Fr Joseph saw famine, war, vocations, happiness and misery. He saw the many faces of death, one of which stared him plainly in the face in 1987.

He had been in Sudan for some time, at a time when South Sudan was ripe with unrest. Now a new Nation, in the late 80’s South Sudan was a hotbed for independence movements some of them even involving members of the national military. They stopped at nothing. Late one evening, the peace of the mission was disrupted by the raucous sounds of an intrusion. A gang of armed militia burst into the mission and the rebels took Fr Joseph and another priest from Guam, hostage. “They did not want to kill us but they wanted to pass a message on to government: We are a force to be reckoned with” observed Fr Joseph. Then they walked. And how they walked. Fr Joseph says that they walked for two whole months among sand and stone with geckos and desert rats for company. Food was scarce. Fr Joseph recalls living for days on tea and a handful of peanuts. And the walking continued. The target was reaching the border where the rebels would get a weapons consignment. The scorching sun was unrelenting, and the only respite was the evening. Fr Joseph, at the edge of his endurance would collapse on the ground and look up to the sky and see the Southern Cross – and he prayed. A simple yet poignant prayer of service, generosity and love for that neighbour who, in that moment was far from being friendly.

“They were not going to hurt us. Many were Christians like us. This time taught me solidarity with my fellow Sudanese. Like them I was hungry, afraid and in need” recalled the Maltese missionary. Two months later, after a bout of malaria which almost killed him, clothes which had not been changed for the duration and a beard which would have made a hermit proud, Fr Joseph was released.

And he recalled all this with a smile.

Follow the Interview with Fr Joseph Pullicino here. Donations to help Fr Joseph may be sent to:

Galilee Centre, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia

Contact in Malta: Fr John Scicluna S.J. Tel: 79412606

 Bank of Valletta, Account Name: Jesuit Missions,

Account No. 16310426012;

IBAN No. MT72VALL22013000000016310426012;

Swift: VALLMTMT.

 Fr Joseph Pullicino S.J.

Email: joepul851@gmail.com jew galileedzeit@gmail.com

Tel: Malta: 79623478

Ethiopia: 00 251 91 407201; 00251 433 9539

Mail: Fr Joseph Pullicino S.J.

Galilee Centre, PO Box 1399, Debre Zeit ETHIOPIA