Sudanese Christians are very strong cross-bearers: Archbishop Marona of Sudan

March 21, 2004

Until recently, peace in Sudan was merely a pipedream as the 20-year civil war, which has claimed 2 million lives and displaced 4 million people, wreaked havoc throughout Africa’s largest country.

The two warring parties, the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), signed an agreement July 2002 known as the Machakos Peace Protocol, stating that “a peaceful and just resolution based on the unity of the Sudan is [their] common objective, and that a military solution is neither viable nor desirable.”

In January 2004, a further agreement was signed which stipulated conditions of wealth sharing and gave further cause for optimism. However, disagreements still abound over power sharing and power struggles in three regions--Nuba Mountains; Southern Blue Nile; and Abiye--and these are proving to be problematic to the peace process.

ENS’s Matthew Davies spoke to the Most Rev. Joseph B. Marona, Archbishop of the Sudan, and the acting provincial secretary, the Rev. Enock Tombe, at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

DAVIES: How do you feel about the current situation in the Sudan compared to how it was two years ago, both politically and relationally?

MARONA: The peace talks at the moment are going on but there are problems. There are three marginalized areas: Nuba Mountains; Southern Blue Nile; and Abiye. In these areas the government sees the escalation but does not talk about it and then when it escalates too much they have to talk about it because they are involved and in it together, especially in the Southern Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains. So this is where we are now stuck, and people are marking time and trying to know how to go through this stumbling block.

The current situation is that people can now cross some parts. For example, from Juba to Yei or Yei to Rokon, or something like that, but they are very careful of mines, which makes it difficult.

DAVIES: So they're really just testing the situation.

MARONA: Yes, they're testing the situation.

DAVIES: But that wouldn't have been possible two years ago?

MARONA: No.

DAVIES: I met with one of your bishops two weeks ago, Bishop Andudu from the Kadugli Nuba Mountains diocese, and he was quite optimistic about the peace process, saying that his region is relatively stable at this time. You climbed the Nuba Mountains about 2 years ago, in June 2002 I believe. What did you encounter in that diocese and that region?

MARONA: I was in the Nuba Mountains that very year and I stayed with the people on the mountains, almost at the foot of the mountains, and I climbed the Nuba Mountains. There was a bit of stability, but that area where I went was badly disturbed. I think it is fair to say that it is relatively stable now.

DAVIES: The diocese was actually split into two, I believe.

MARONA: Yes, one half was run by the government and the other by the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army].

DAVIES: But now that is not the case?

MARONA: No, people can cross now.

DAVIES: We hear stories of the horrors of slavery. Sometimes we hear stories about children as young as eight who are brutally beaten and raped in certain areas in the Sudan. What more needs to be done to stop this kind of barbaric behavior?

MARONA: I think I will give this to my provincial secretary.

TOMBE: About three years ago the government [decided] that there was not slavery, but abduction. But when you really examine that word abduction, it is the process and the final result is slavery, which is what happens to abducted women and children. A group was formed to recruit those children and women, and I think they were separated by UNICEF, who were working with the local leaders and chiefs. But these areas now are in a full civil war so we don't know very much about how they have succeeded to recruit the children.

But slavery exists, yes, and it resurfaces when there's civil war, as where there is no law and order in place, people go back to the old practice which was there before the government ruled.

DAVIES: And I presume that there are certain areas that you wouldn't even consider going to?

TOMBE: Well, as I said, with a full civil war things become worse for everybody and even worse with the abduction because there is no way that UNICEF or any other group can just go there because it's insecure.

DAVIES: There seems to be a considerable north/south divide. Some people say that the only route to peace would be for the country to split into two and for the two halves to be governed separately. Do you feel that this is the only way that the Sudan can achieve peace, or are there alternatives that you would like to see fulfilled?

TOMBE: I think the progress made so far in the peace process is very encouraging. I'm talking about the Machakos Peace Protocol, which was signed between the two warring parties in July 2002, and then the subsequent agreement on wealth sharing, and they issued a statement on religion. The agreement is basically giving two options: for the country to remain united, providing certain things are done; or to give the people of the South the chance to decide, or to opt out, as they say.

The churches have fully supported this, that it is good for the people to decide. I think we issued a paper called "Let my people choose." The UN should be involved in the process, so that people can walk freely whatever option they choose--unity or separation--after an interim period of six and a half years, when the government of Sudan is to prove to all the citizens that it can govern everyone fairly and with justice and equality. The fear is that southern Sudan will vote for separation. But if [the government] fails after six years it will be justifiable that they choose what they want.

DAVIES: Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey had a particular interest in the Sudan. He visited the country three times during his 11-year archiepiscopacy. How do you feel the Anglican Communion could be more supportive of the people of the Sudan at this moment?

MARONA: At this moment, by following the example of George Carey. I said to the new Archbishop of Canterbury: please follow the footsteps of your colleague; don't let us alone. I think that he has that in mind and we are expecting him to visit us next year and he's a close friend of ours.

DAVIES: Are you optimistic about Rowan Williams' leadership of the Anglican Communion?

MARONA: Yes, he's a wise man and I'm optimistic. I'm one of those who recommended him to the Queen. It was asked that those who have ideas about recommendations are to do so, so I did.

DAVIES: How are things within your own church at the moment? I understand that historically there have been some difficulties and problems with illegal ordinations. Would you like to comment on that?

MARONA: Yes, one bishop led a mass ordination, which does not comply with our constitution. One day I asked him about the service book and how he could ordain so many people just in a day. To ordain this many people should take 3, 4 or 5 days, so he was not able to furnish our provincial office with this request and he also committed several other things that compelled us to remove him, but he removed himself constitutionally and other bishops followed.

DAVIES: This one bishop in particular, was he involved with the government?

MARONA: Yes.

DAVIES: Did that cause any problems with the church’s relationship to the government?

MARONA: The state relationship at the moment is good, but they go behind [us]. We have not discovered it, but we think that the government supports this person. But we do our job and he is known, of course, so we are not worried about that.

DAVIES: Do you think is it true that people are still, in Sudan, being persecuted for proclaiming their faith?

MARONA: Yes, you know we have a way of demonstrating how Jesus carried his cross on Friday and how he was tortured, he was convicted and by acting that people really feel that Jesus suffered for us and we see what the state does to some of our Christian brothers and how they bring a lot of havoc to them. So we take the cross as a very serious thing. This is why in Dinka you'll find all the Christians carrying their cross. And also, we show our cross and we tell the world of Jesus: if you want to follow me, deny yourself and take your cross and follow me. So I think the Sudanese Christians are very strong cross-bearers.

TOMBE: When we left Sudan at the end of this month, the northern-most southern diocese, Renk, was facing problems with their state. The government wanted to construct a highway through an existing school. So they had been campaigning to stop the government from doing this or at least to get compensation. I think [Assisting] Bishop [Francis] Gray of Virginia was there, because afterwards I think one of the engineers of the diocese was trying to protect the site and he got arrested, although we learned that he was released recently due to pressure from the local community. So there are areas where this is kind of a daily experience.

The state tends to bring everyone under Islamic Arab culture. We don't know when it will end but if this peace process bears any fruit that will probably bring some change.

DAVIES: What message will you be sending to the House of Bishops? What do you hope to achieve from speaking to them, and also your presence here in the United States?

MARONA: First of all, I have been invited to be in the meeting mostly for prayer and Bible sharing together, and if I'm asked to comment on reconciliation I will take an example from our own situation in our own church. What the good Lord will put in my mouth on that day is still hidden and I'm praying for it.

DAVIES: Some people say that currently the Anglican Communion is facing a crisis because of certain actions taken by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada. What are your feelings about the current situation?

MARONA: I was in the meeting of Primates last year and the feeling was expressed that the church will be divided if something is not done, but we really talked in love. This is one of the things which has made me come, because we believe in fellowship in the Anglican Communion. So, I personally talked to my brother here--the Presiding Bishop [Frank Griswold]--to ask him to think twice. After hearing that the consecration went ahead I think that many Christians were upset, especially in Africa because this is all biblical. But I think there is nothing impossible for God.

Now the Primates in Africa say that they can not allow the bishop [Griswold] to come to their provinces and I'm one who is saying that, but this is because of the feeling of what has happened, it's not biblical, but we pray that the body of Christ will not be divided because Christ himself says, “If you are divided, you fall, but united, you will stand.”

DAVIES: So, at the Primates' Meeting, despite the fact that there were serious tensions, you felt that there was still a strong sense of unity binding all the provinces together?

MARONA: Yes, that was really our main argument, that all of us as Primates in the Communion that is tied together, are in fellowship. But we should really follow what the Bible says and this really was our worry.
 
This week I took a strong step to come and my colleagues may also say “Why did you go?” But I know what to answer: because we have to be in fellowship together and give my presence in prayer. And I have brothers here, like Bishops Francis Gray and Neff Powell. We need to stay together and not to be removed. All of us are sinners but we can take the example of the Pharisee and the publican when the publican said, "God, have mercy on me." So we are under the mercy of God. This is why it is very, very important to me to come and share my beliefs and experiences at the House of Bishops meeting.

DAVIES: There was a statement issued on the Internet saying that "ECUSA has separated itself from the Communion," which has been circulated with your name on it.

MARONA: This document came when I was away in the Yei diocese. I think the list has come because we were working together in Lambeth and I wrote a document about the situation in ECUSA. But to sign, I did not do that, but they might have put my name because we had been together with others.

DAVIES: So there was an assumption.

MARONA: There was an assumption, yes, that I may have said that.

DAVIES: Should people be issuing statements before the Lambeth Commission has completed its work?

MARONA: My argument is that since the commission was formed, why not wait, particularly until we know what the commission has decided?

-- Matthew Davies is staff writer for Episcopal News Service