Catholics in South Sudan are mourning the loss of Bishop Caesar Mazzolari of Rumbek, who died at the age of 74 while concelebrating Mass on July 16.
The Rumbek diocese said local faithful are "shocked and deeply saddened" by the Italian bishop's death, and expressed its "heartfelt appreciation of his dedicated service and lifelong faithful witness to the Gospel among the people of South Sudan."
Bishop Mazzolari had a seizure at an early morning Mass on Saturday. Witnesses say he stumbled back onto a chair during the consecration and grabbed his chest while gasping for air.
After being taken to the State Hospital in Rumbek, he was pronounced dead at 8 a.m.
Bishop Mazzolari was known for his outspoken stance against warfare and for championing the rights of Sudan's poor and marginalized. The bishop also advocated for increased education and health care and was seen as pivotal in promoting dialogue and reconciliation across the 10 states of South Sudan.
"Evangelization was at the heart of his ministry which was nourished by his commitment to a deep life of prayer," read the July 16 diocesan statement.
"Like St Paul, Bishop Mazzolari spent his life at the service of the Gospel," the diocese added. "His fatherly care and compassion, generosity and selflessness were sources of hope and comfort to all those he encountered."
The bishop was born in 1937 in the Italian city of Brescia, later joined the Comboni Missionaries and was ordained a priest in 1962.