The sound of gunfire is coming closer. Billowing smoke can be seen in the distance. The area has become a battlefield between the government forces and the rebels. The missionaries realise it is time to go.
They gather their few possessions and start walking towards the Ugandan border. Amid the many dangers and ever-present fears, Father Aranda writes: “After walking for days, we reached the Bidi Bidi refugee camp. Living like refugees is a new experience for us as a missionary community. We have left our mission of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan and now we are with our people who live in the refugee camps in the north of Uganda. Like them, we are homeless people and refugees”.
Mexican Father José de Jesús Aranda Nava first went to Sudan in 1984. His main apostolate was the training of the Comboni postulants in Juba and Khartoum. In 1992, he was expelled with other Combonis by the Muslim government of Khartoum, in Sudan. Once back in Mexico, he worked in the formation of future missionaries as well as in missionary animation. He is remembered as a man who was always smiling. He would always speak enthusiastically of his missionary work in Africa.
In 1999, he returned to Africa and devoted himself to the formation of young missionaries first in Sudan and then in Kenya. Lastly, in 2007, he arrived in the parish of Kajo Keji, South Sudan. There he worked tirelessly training catechists and managing a number of schools for boys and girls.
On the feast of Saint Daniel Comboni, he wrote on Facebook: “Comboni Day: 10 October 2020. The holiness of Comboni is lived out in communion with suffering humanity. Saint Daniel lived his holiness in solidarity with the suffering and the ill-treated. In the course of our history, the sons and daughters of Saint Daniel Comboni have sought to follow the path of holiness, sharing the daily life of their suffering brothers and sisters.
“We have great people who are fine examples of making common cause with the people: Father Giuseppe Ambrosoli, Father Ezekiel Ramin and many more. Today, we are called to share in holiness, the life of so many people who are faced with the crisis of the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences. We are in communion with the migrants and refugees, the populations in areas of conflict and war. Let us carry in our hearts the burden of suffering of the Church and the sad situation of the environment and all creation. Pray for peace and brotherhood between our people and South Sudan”.
He was urgently taken to Lachor Hospital in Gulu where he was admitted with the Coronavirus infection. He died on 4 November 2020. He was 68 years of age. His dream was to be a missionary in Africa. This dream of his came true and he not only lived as a missionary in Africa but also died and was buried in the land he loved.