Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Mennonites gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York Dec. 3 to kick off a weekly noontime prayer vigil in solidarity with the people of Sudan in the lead up to the Jan. 9 referendum, in which the south is expected to vote for independence from the north.
"The first line of defense for Christians is prayer," the Rev. Petero Sabune, the Episcopal Church's program officer for Africa, said during the vigil. "Right now people are praying in Nzara, Renk, Torit and Mundri. Prayer is a powerful thing; it can go through space and time."
Throughout the season of Advent and leading up to the referendum people are invited to pray for peace in Sudan on Fridays at noon eastern time. People throughout the 31-diocese Episcopal Church of Sudan have committed to praying at noon local time in solidarity with people worldwide.
The referendum is the final provision of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 by the two warring parties -- Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the south and the north's Khartoum-based Government of Sudan. The CPA ended a 21-year civil war -- fought by the Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the Christian-animist south -- that killed more than 2 million people and displaced an estimated 7 million more.
During the prayer service, Christine Mangale, of the Lutheran Office for World Community, said she sent a notice to her friends and colleagues asking them to pray.
"They are one with us; in Asia and Latin America, they are one with us," she said.
Those gathered at the U.N. chapel prayed that the referendum takes place without conflict; for government leaders in both north and southern Sudan, that they "may govern with open and discerning hearts and minds toward reconciliation and peace"; and they prayed for the people of Sudan, those who live in fear of persecution and for the refugees and internally displaced people.
Kayon Watson from the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief agency, asked that "the love of people be greater than the love of greed and power."
Religious leaders of all denominations, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, have called for a "Season of Prayer," in the run up to the referendum.
"This is an issue that concerns people of goodwill throughout our world ... and has brought people together," said the Rev. Gene Squeo, a Roman Catholic priest, during the vigil.
Squeo asked God to look after the people of Sudan and closed by saying, "Help us always, wherever we may be, to be people of peace."