Sudanese churches stand at a crossroads, said the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia. On the one hand, they face a transition from liberation fight to rebuilding their homes and communities. On the other, they live in a country where Islam and Christianity cross paths and the relationship between the two is vital.
Speaking 3 April, at the closing session of a 3-day Congress of Sudanese Churches leaders in Juba, capital city of southern Sudan, Kobia addressed the historical significance of the country and assessed the post-war role of its churches. The Juba conference, which included women and youth participation, culminated an international ecumenical solidarity visit to the country that took place from 26 March to 3 April.
From a historical point of view, Sudan, the biggest country in the continent, is a place where Islam meets Christianity, as well as where the Arab meets black Africans, Kobia said.
The majority of the estimated 39 million people of Sudan are Muslim, with Christians amounting to about 17%, and some 10% of followers of African traditional religions. While the northern part of the country is predominantly Muslim, the southern part is predominantly Christian.
A devastating 21-year civil war between the north and south of Sudan left 2 million Sudanese dead and another 4 million displaced persons, mostly in southern Sudan
The war ended in January 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA established a government of national unity between north and south, with its seat in Khartoum, and in the south an autonomous government of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
In this context, the need for deepened inter-religious dialogue was emphasized early in the ecumenical visit when Kobia and other international ecumenical representatives met with the Sudan Interreligious Council in Khartoum.
Speaking of the widely known letter ‘A Common Word’ which was sent by 138 Muslim leaders in October 2007, to Christian leaders around the world, Kobia said an “extraordinary opportunity to renew the Muslim-Christian dialogue” exists. The WCC is encouraging its member churches to “reflect on it (the letter) and to engage in dialogue with the Muslim community”, he added.
War, peace and the changing role of the churches
“The CPA holds Sudan together”, said Kobia. But with significant challenges facing the success of the agreement it is the civil society and especially the churches which are being called to play a crucial role in rebuilding southern Sudan.
According to Kobia, they need to adjust their role in line with the transition from liberation to nation building, both with very different ethos. Monitoring of the CPA implementation, civic education to enable citizen’s participation, reconciliation and healing of the deep wounds and bitterness left by the war are among the areas where churches can make a significant contribution.
Collaboration between ecumenical partners remains crucial. But the churches in the country need to “earn the confidence and trust of the ecumenical family”, showing that “they have what it takes to accomplish the tasks ahead”, said Kobia. According to him, the Sudanese churches “have quite a way to go in this respect”.
Organized by the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), the international ecumenical solidarity visit was hosted by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC). Led by the WCC general secretary, four teams of church representatives visited Khartoum, Yambio, Rumbek and Darfur.
Additional information on the visit:
WCC member churches in Sudan:
Additional information: Juan Michel,+41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363 firstname.lastname@example.org
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr , from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.