Sudan church thrives in midst of civil war

Published December 1, 2001

Archbishop Joseph Marona, of the Episcopalian church in Sudan.

Archbishop of Sudan Joseph Marona says the civil war in his homeland has claimed more than 500,000 victims since his last visit to Canada about a year ago, bringing the total tally to 3 million dead.

And yet, in spite of the turmoil, violence and death, the church is thriving, the archbishop said. The war in Sudan, which began in 1983, is “the worst, most long-lasting war in the world,” the archbishop said in an interview during a recent visit with his wife, Eunice, to the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office in Toronto.

But the Episcopalian church in the Sudan is still growing, he added. “When there are problems, people always look to God,” he said. The church hopes a planned meeting in February will result in a new constitution. It has also begun to ordain women, he reported.

The archbishop acknowledged that he remains in the Sudan at some peril, when he is not travelling outside the country to raise support for the cause of peace. When he is at home, he moves around a lot. “The church is scattered during this difficult and challenging period. One has to move around to see one’s flock.”

Archbishop Marona described a new “people to people” peace initiative within the mostly southern Christian community in the Sudan. “We are hoping to promote peace, love and unity among the Christians so that they love themselves. The hatred will disappear and they will not want to fight.” This has not extended to the Muslim community, he said.

International church organizations such as the World Council of Churches are trying to get the Islamic government in the north to stop persecuting its mainly animist and Christian population in the south. (Opposing factions are the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the National Democratic Alliance, although there are other warring groups.)

Archbishop Marona said that the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11 helped return world focus to Sudan, where al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden once ran a construction businesses and was hailed as a hero for completing a long-awaited road into Khartoum. (The government expelled Mr. bin Laden in 1994, after which he settled in Afghanistan).

The archbishop also referred to April 11, when government police shut down a religious meeting in a Khartoum church. The ecumenical group was meeting over the plight of German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. According to African media sources, government forces shut down Mr. Bonnke’s popular outdoor service, and he fled the country. At the subsequent church meeting, the crowd was tear-gassed and many were arrested. Those arrested were later freed after intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and Archbishop Marona.

Archbishop Marona said he came to Canada “to educate people about the situation in Sudan; and then to appeal for government intervention in the peace process.”


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