Christianity toils as African nation-builder alongside Muslim neighbor

(Photo: Reuters /Andreea Campeanu)Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (L) and his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir (R) listen to their national anthems upon his arrival at the Juba Airport in South Sudan April 12, 2013. Bashir visits South Sudan on Friday for the first time since Africa's once-largest country split in 2011, raising hope the two long-time adversaries will take steps to establish peaceful co-existence.

Sudan became two countries in July 2011, when after decades of bloody civil war South Sudan, a strongly Christian nation, got its independence.

When that occurred there were fears that the Christian minority in predominantly Arab and Muslim Sudan might become marginalized.

South Sudan has a population of 11 million people and is rich in oil, which has been a point of contention between it and Khartoum, since independence.

Its leadership has praised the Word Council of Churches for helping bring about its nationhood peacefully.

(Photo: WCC)World Council of Churhces general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit with South Sudan President Salva Kiir in Juba on April 25, 2013.

Despite some armed clashes in disputed oil-rich border areas, relations between the two countries have thawed and they appear to be reaching an accord on good neighborliness.

But such is the concern for the plight and future of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa that the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, has spent the past 10 days visiting the region including Egypt and the two Sudans.

In Khartoum, Tveit was told about authorities limiting permits for building of churches, which he raised as a concern to be addressed during his meeting with Alfatih T. Abdallah, Sudanese minister for guidance and endowment.


Since the separation of Southern Sudan where most people are Christians or followers of traditional African beliefs, Christians have shriveled to a tiny minority in Sudan itself, where most of the 34 million people are Sunni Muslims.

Abdallah, told Tveit however, "Sudan needs churches to rebuild the society after a long history of conflict. Their right to worship and conduct their activities is a guarantee in constitution of the country."

A statement by the Geneva-based WCC said the minister promised further interaction with the churches.

"We hope to hold regular meetings with the churches to address the problems and building of trust and dialogue," said Abdallah.

Tveit was in Khartoum from April 23 to 24, visiting church leaders and government officials at the invitation of the Sudan Council of Churches, headquartered there.

The visit was Tveit's first to Khartoum since the separation of Sudan and South Sudan in 2011, implementing their peace agreement of 2005 following a war going back to 1955, the world's longest 20th century conflict.

The WCC, representing more than 500 million Christians globally, played an important role in the peaceful transition of South Sudan.

"There will always be religious minorities and majorities in any country," Tveit told Abdallah. "However, it is regardless of these dynamics that all actors of the society, including the churches, should be working together for the rebuilding of peace in Sudan."

While in Khartoum, Tveit met with the Sudanese church leaders at the All Saints Cathedral in the Sudanese capital.

Among the people he met thre were Father Anthonio, chairman of the SCC, Abdalla Ali, acting general secretary of the SCC, and Bishop Ezekiel Kondo from the Episcopal Church in Sudan.

On April 25, Tveit travelled to Juba, the capital of South Sudan for a meeting with church and government leaders.

There South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit spoke of the strong potential of churches in helping to develop the new country.

"After the independence of South Sudan, it is the churches who have the capability to bring people together and help rebuild the country," said Kiir.

"South Sudan is a State where all religious communities, including Christians, can work freely, and their contributions for the social betterment regardless of their religious associations, are welcomed," he added.

Kiir expressed his appreciation for Christian organizations, saying that they "always played an important role in providing humanitarian assistance in the times of conflict."


He cited different projects including Christian hospitals and emergency responses that continued to run during the time of conflict.

Tveit told President Kiir, " We are committed to continue work with churches for justice and peace in the new South Sudan. The confidence in the churches and their leaders is a great asset for the healing and peace in the country and its people. "

He added, "Sudanese churches must carry on their struggles for peace in their countries despite the separation. The churches are carrying values of human rights, democracy and reconciliation. We strongly support such processes, and we keep them in our prayers."

During his stay in Juba, Tveit met with a group of Sudanese church leaders led by Rev. Mark Akec Cien, SCC's acting general secretary.

The group, included Bishop Michael Taban Toro, SCC's chairperson, SCC's ecumenical relations officer Rev. Emmanuel Natania, Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro and Rev. Daniel Deng Bul.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News