16,000 Christians Are Now Hiding In Giant Catholic Cathedral To Escape Violence As Soldiers Slaughter Them

16,000 Christians are said to be hiding in a Catholic Cathedral in Sudan, trying to take refuge from the horrific violence that has been rampant in the region on account of a devastating civil war. According to the report:

As violence and civil war tear South Sudan apart, people search for refuge within churches and cathedrals while trying to stave off famine and persecution.

Rita Williams slept under a tree beside St. Mary Catholic Cathedral, her three hungry children beside her. Around them, as many as 16,000 other displaced people filled the cathedral compound, hoping the church would keep them safe as their country spirals into greater violence.

“I’ve been here two weeks, since the soldiers chased us out of our house and burned it,” she said April 26. “We have nothing, not even salt. Our clothes are dirty, and some days all we have to eat or drink is water. We’re waiting. I don’t know for what, but we’re afraid to go back home.”

When civil war ripped apart South Sudan’s fragile democracy in 2013, residents of this city in the country’s northwest watched the violence from afar, seemingly unconcerned that the politically manipulated ethnic violence would spread here. And then it did, and the victims ran for the city’s churches.

“It wasn’t safe anywhere, but people said that if they were going to be killed, they preferred to be killed in the church because this is the place that Jesus is present. They wanted to die in the church rather than die in their homes,” said Father Germano Bernardo, a priest in Wau.

Although tensions had been building for months, last June intense fighting broke out between soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, who are mostly members of the dominant Dinka tribe, and a mixture of local opposition groups and members of other ethnic communities.

On June 23, the violence spread into the center of Wau, where two members of the cathedral choir were killed.

“They were walking home in the evening after choir practice and were attacked by six soldiers, who shot them dead,” said Bernardo, who at the time served as vicar general of the diocese.

The next day, government soldiers started looting and burning houses belonging to the Fertit and other ethnic groups, and people rushed to the city’s churches and a nearby U.N. base, Bernardo told Catholic News Service.

By June 25, he said, soldiers were driving around the city, “shooting people as they ran from their houses.”

One small child, age 1, was killed as he ran for the church, said Bernardo.

Sources: Crux and Shoebot