The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion sees a “new beginning” for Christians in the country, as officials stress religious freedom as a fundamental principle of government.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on July 30th declared Sudan the 39th province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, six years after the predominantly Christian south gained independence from the north.
The Anglican Church in Sudan, a majority Muslim country, has been administered from South Sudan since the 2011 split which followed a civil war that left more than 2m people dead.
Welby said that creating a 39th Anglican province with its own Khartoum-based archbishop was a “new beginning” for Christians in Sudan.
He installed Ezekiel Kondo Kumir Kuku as the country’s first archbishop and primate at a ceremony in the capital’s All Saints Cathedral attended by American, European and African diplomats as well as hundreds of worshippers.
“It is a responsibility for Christians to make this province work, and for those outside (Sudan) to support, to pray and to love this province,” he said.
“The church must learn to be sustainable financially, to develop the skills of its people, and to bless this country as the Christians here already do.”
The newly inaugurated Episcopal Church of Sudan will have its own autonomous administration to take its own decisions, Reverend Francis Clement of All Saints Cathedral told AFP (30/7).
There is no central Anglican authority such as a pope, with each member church making its own decision in its own ways guided by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Human rights and Christian campaign groups have regularly accused the Sudanese authorities of persecuting Christians and even destroying churches in the capital since the north-south split.
Since the 1989 coup that brought Islamist-backed President Omar al-Bashir to power, authorities in Khartoum have pursued Arabising and Islamising policies in a bid to unify the country.
Later on July 30th, Welby met President Bashir with whom he discussed the “protection” of Christians and churches in Sudan.
“In England, the Church of England often seeks to protect Muslims when they are under pressure,” Welby said, indicating that he expected the same in Sudan when it came to protecting Christians.
The Archbishop of Canterbury visits schoolchildren in northern Uganda – Scovin Ieta/Daily Monitor
Christian communities in Sudan today are mostly found in the Nuba mountains of South Kordofan state. Experts say that 3 – 5% of Sudan’s about 25m population are Christian.
Abubakar Osman, the Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments, told reporters in Khartoum that the inauguration of the Anglican Church in the country “coincides with a special moment in the history of our Sudanese nation.”
“The National Dialogue has led to the formation of a government that considers political and religious freedoms as its fundamental principles,” he said, quoted by Amsterdam’s Radio Dabanga.
In July, the Sudanese Ministry of Education reportedly issued an order to church schools in the country to observe the weekend on Friday and Saturday, and operate schools on Sunday, though the churches complain that Sunday has been the free day for church schools since their founding in the country.
Earlier in 2017, the European Union (EU) Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief visited Sudan to inquire about the situation of Christians in the country and the planned demolition of 27 church buildings in Khartoum.
The chairman of the parliamentary Legislation and Justice Committee told the envoy that freedom of belief is sanctioned by Sudan’s Interim Constitution and that the church buildings were demolished for reasons concerning the ownership of the land they were built on.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour, on July 31st received the visiting Archbishop of Canterbury and stressed that religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence among the various religious groups is one of the criteria of the Sudanese people, said Sudan News Agency.
The Minister also briefed the archbishop on the efforts by the government of Sudan to provide assistance to the refugees who crossed into the country.
Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:
SUDAN: ‘Closed Chapter?’
Political, Social & Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21491A–21492C
SOUTH SUDAN: President Announces Truce, National Dialogue
Political, Social & Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 5, pp. 21442B–21443A