The struggle for the vindication of human dignity, continued obstinately and marked by the blood of martyrdom, was the mark of the Catholic Church in Sudan since its inception. It emerged clearly at the symposium A single Church from every ethnicity, language and people, which was held last October at the Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba, capital of southern Sudan. The symposium was organised by the Catholic Church of Southern Sudan and intended to continue the celebrations of the independence of South Sudan and commemorate the contribution made by the Church to the development of the country. Church authorities, representatives of religious institutions, and historical witnesses shared experiences, exchanged views and bold visions for the future. Among the 700 participants, the presence of Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako, Archbishop of Khartoum, and Msgr. Paulino Lukudu, Archbishop of Juba, all the Sudanese Catholic bishops, many bishops and pastors of other Christian denominations, missionaries and local religious, gave the event a clear ecclesial character. The interventions of government officials and international experts were also relevant.
Cardinal Zubeir opened the assembly specifying the purpose: “We will take part in celebrations, tell many stories; we will express opinions on this country and its Church. One thing should always be clear: this process should help us to decide on future actions, at both the national and local level”. With the independence of South Sudan, the Sudanese Church has also changed. It is essential to remember the past and, without false modesty, recognize its contribution to the liberation from slavery and to human advancement.
Historians know that there is little academic study on South Sudan, always considered of little importance for the economy of the old Sudan. History is always written by the conquerors; first by British and Egyptian officials, then from the north-Sudanese. It is now the time for Southern Sudanese to write their history. As for the Church, its history is dominated by the presence of Saint Daniel Comboni and the missionaries of the institute he founded in 1867. During the symposium many old missionaries and local leaders shared their experience, stressing the multifaceted contribution of the Churches in the development of the country, particularly in the fields of health and education. They also told stories of suffering and trauma, not failing to note that, in most cases, the Church was the only institution to bring help and relief.
People listened to the testimony of elderly nuns of the Sacred Heart Institute and several Brothers of the Congregation of St. Martin (both local institutes). Relating the beginning of their institutions, they also gave a narrative of the formation of the fabric of the local Church and of the notion of South Sudan as a nation.
Bishop Taban, bishop emeritus of Torit, shared the story of the Kuron Village of Peace. “After decades of fratricidal wars, I felt the need to have a place where different ethnic groups could live in peace and reconciled with each other, to become an inspiring model for other regions of Southern Sudan. The Village of peace today is a clear sign that the ethnic groups of Southern Sudan can live together without making war”.
Participants also reflected on today of the two Sudan and their Churches. No one doubts the credibility and moral authority that the Church in Sudan has acquired through its presence and its activities. This gives her the right and duty to play a public role in the future. That is why the participants did not hesitate to have their say on some burning issues: the sharing of resources, the question of new borders and citizenship, the problem of foreign debt, the dispute on the region of Abyei.
There has been a major concern for the future of Northern Sudan. There is every indication that Khartoum is moving towards the creation of an Islamic state, with no tolerance for ethnic, cultural and religious differences. The wars that broke out in Southern Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) and in the Blue Nile, add to the conflict in Darfur. For years the Church in Sudan has been repeating that the aspirations of the peoples of these regions had been completely ignored by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, and that this omission constituted a real threat to new armed conflicts. There is still much to do for the rights of those people to be recognized by the central government. Much of South Sudan today is peaceful, yet there are some hot spots, marked by ethnic tensions. Here the Church is called to continue the peace processes, specializing in the ministry of healing and prevention of new conflicts. The Government of Southern Sudan has expressed appreciation for the work of the Church in the past and the hope that it will continue the cooperation, accepting to be the “critical conscience” of the new nation.
John Ashworth, Paola Moggi, Daniel Moschetti