THE inauguration of Sudan as the 39th Province of the Anglican Communion marks a “new beginning” for the Christian community in the country, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Archbishop Welby was speaking at the service of inauguration in All Saints’ Cathedral, Khartoum, on Sunday, at which he installed the new Primate of Sudan, the Most Revd Ezekiel Kumir Kondo, Bishop of Khartoum. He prayed for wisdom and the abolition of fear.
“Like all new births, it comes with responsibility within Sudan for Christians to make it work, and from outside to support, to pray, to love this new Province,” he said. “There is much to develop, many opportunities, and many challenges. There is land, and there are churches; above all, there is a wonderful people. The Province must learn to be sustainable financially, to develop the skills of its people, and to bless this country, as the Christians here already do.”
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 (News, 15 July 2011), and the title of the Primate, the Most Revd Daniel Deng, was changed to that of Sudan and South Sudan. The four-and-a-half-million members of the Episcopal Church are mainly in South Sudan.
Archbishop Kondo was enthroned as the first Archbishop of Sudan in 2014 for a new internal province, made up of five dioceses. He was appointed Primate of the new Province earlier this year, after a formal application for autonomy, put forward by South Sudan, was approved by the Anglican Consultative Council (News, 17 March).
But being a Province was not just about independence, Archbishop Welby warned. “Provinces are interdependent: they rely on one another for love and prayer and support in many ways; but they are autonomous, they are their own thing in their own culture, and that is something I celebrate with great joy.
“No government need fear this Province, for the more liberty it has, the more it will seek to bless its society, the more it will give. That is true the world over.”
He later met the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, with whom he discussed the issue of freedom of religion. Speaking afterwards to reporters, the Archbishop said that he had pointed to the mutual respect and support between Muslims and Christians in the UK, and has suggested that this relationship could be replicated in Sudan.
“We talked of how, in England, we seek to help mosques in ensuring that they are able to function well and freely. . . The Church of England often seeks to protect Muslims when they are under pressure.”
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURYShelter: a refugee camp in the diocese of Kadugli & the Nuba Mountains, in Province of Sudan
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning, Archbishop Welby said that he had discussed with President Bashir the difficulties facing Christians in Sudan.
He continued: “It has been very interesting to me, down in refugee camps in the south of the Sudan — not South Sudan — seeing the way in which there is good relations between Muslims and Christians, particularly at the grass roots, and particularly in welcoming refugees, which is very moving and very remarkable.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, who accompanied the Archbishop, gave more detail of the discussion on his blog: “We spent just under an hour in respectful but frank conversation about Sudan, its international reputation, the challenges faced by Christian churches, and other matters. It was good-humoured, but open.
“The demolition of churches was just one of the issues addressed, but so was the challenge to Sudan of continuing United States sanctions.”
The delegation also met the Governor of Khartoum State, the Foreign Minister, and the Minister of Guidance and Endowment (religious affairs). The Archbishop raised matters of concern, discussing wider political and economic issues, Bishop Baines wrote. “It was both wide-ranging and focused, and questions of religious discrimination, demolition of churches, freedom of religion, etc. were all discussed honestly and respectfully.”
Archbishop Welby arrived in Sudan on Saturday, and travelled to the diocese of Kadugli & the Nuba Mountains — one of five dioceses making up the new Province — in the south of the country, where he opened a new diocesan office.
He later wrote in a Facebook post that visiting religious leaders, refugees, and internally displaced people in the diocese had been a “great privilege”. He had been particularly struck by the attitude to refugees.
“Sudan sets an example to many around the world in its welcome to those in need. I’m sure it’s a great pressure on the government and local people to receive such large numbers, and the people of Sudan have shown true humanity.”
There was also great hope for peace and reconciliation. “In Kadugli, today,” he wrote, “I heard inspiring stories from Christian and Muslim leaders who want peace, and who are actively working together to achieve it. They need peace. They understand more than anyone else the cost of war. Pray that the world rallies behind them, fulfilling the promises of support made.”
He urged Christians in the region to pray for peace. “Sudan is a country that could be prosperous and successful — let us pray it will be so. Pray for courage, justice, and a hunger for the common good in government at all levels.”
The Archbishop and his entourage travelled to northern Uganda on Tuesday, to pray with some of the 900,000 Sudanese refugees resident in the districts of Moyo and Adjumani. He was met at Entebbe International Airport by the Primate of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, and local primary school students and teachers.
Most of the 1.9 million refugees who have fled from South Sudan are in Uganda, but there are also refugees in neighbouring countries Kenya, Sudan, Congo, Southern Africa, and Ethiopia.
He said: “The Bible tells us that the refugee is specially loved by God, which means you who are refugees are specially loved by God, that Jesus himself was a refugee and he loves you and he stands with you and the suffering that you have is the suffering that he knows. So I pray for you, I will advocate for you.”
Read the Archbishop’s sermon here.
Correction: We initially described Bishop Baines as the Bishop of Croydon. He is, of course, the Bishop of Leeds, having been translated from Croydon to Bradford in 2011, and then on to Leeds in 2014.