“People are proud to be Christians”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Sudan is the bridge between Africa’s Islamic north and black south – Recently a delegation of Aid to the Church in Need has visited the country. Only in 2016 the charity supported the church with almost half a million Euros

Sudden rumbles shatter the quiet of the evening. The Comboni priests stop eating to listen. They only continue with their evening meal when it becomes clear that the noise was caused by thunder and not by aerial bombs. “This country has gone through so many wars and military coups that you never know what is going on,” an elderly priest, who has been living in Khartoum since the 1950s, remarked. And then explained that, in those days, Sudan’s capital, located at the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers, was still a backwater on the edge of the Sahara. The city was made up of single-storey mud brick dwellings that made the city hardly distinguishable from the soil on which it stood. The only architectural exceptions were some churches and the administration buildings that were still left over from Anglo-Egyptian colonial times. This all came to an end in 1956 with national independence. Since then, the country’s development has closely followed that of so many post-colonial countries, including the extreme social inequality and the urban-rural divide. The glittering high rises of glass only serve to accentuate the stark contrast to the misery being suffered by other parts of the population. As the plane begins its descent to the airport located in the middle of the city, the tin roofs of the shanty towns blaze in the relentless glare of the summer sun.

Hundreds of thousands moved to the capital from rural areas in their search for a better life and are now carving out a meagre existence at its fringes.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][bs_modal_gallery groupname=”Sudan ” images=”7526,7524,7525,7521,7518,7517″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has ruled the country since 1989, which in and of itself is already a feat. The period when rival fractions of the army regularly staged coups against each other – the source of the trauma of the priests gathered for their evening meal – ended with this last coup. At least in Khartoum. Because even after almost thirty years of al-Bashir’s government, peace is practically unheard of in the country. Turmoil reigns in every corner of this multi-ethnic state, caused by ethnic conflicts, struggles over the distribution of oil, pastureland and other resources as well as religious tensions. The east was embroiled in conflict up until a few years ago, when an agreement was reached by Khartoum and the Eastern Front. In the south, the government is regularly dropping bombs on opposition groups in the South Kordofan region. And in the west, in Darfur, the conflict cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. An international arrest warrant has been issued for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the government in this region. Amnesty International claims to have evidence that the government army even used chemical weapons against the people during the last year.

However, the bloodiest conflict is currently taking place there, where Sudan’s black south once was. After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, the youngest country in the world descended into a bloody civil war. Warring ethnic groups – the Nuer and Dinka people – began to wage war against each other with what was at times inhumane brutality. Until just recently, the country was at the very brink of a hunger catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of refugees pushed back north, which they had left because they felt they were being discriminated against on the basis of skin colour and religion. Many Arab North Sudanese still call the black people of the south, regardless of whether they are Christians or followers of one of the African religions, “abd”, or slave. And many were practically enslaved in the north. Christian human rights groups pressured the US government to step in for the independence of South Sudan. And that is what happened.

This is why Sudan, once Africa’s largest territorial state, is now just a torso. Now that the south has gained independence, the north has become even more Arab, even more Muslim. There are only a few native Christians in the more than 90 per cent Sunni north. They come from the sub-Saharan Nuba Mountains in the southern part of what is today North Sudan or from the state of Blue Nile. The rest are descendants of Egyptian or Levantine immigrants from the time when the Arab world knew no borders. Most of the Christians living in the north come from the south. Their situation in the north is extremely precarious because they lost their citizenship through the secession of the south.

The Roman Catholic church is the largest of the churches. It gained a foothold in the 19th century, scattering the Seed of the Word in an uncultivated field. Because after centuries of Islamic hegemony, nothing but ruins were left of the Christian kingdoms that had once existed on Sudanese soil for hundreds of years, beginning in Ancient times. Meanwhile, the British colonists tried to avoid religious tensions between Muslims and Christian missionaries and diverted the Christian missionary efforts to the south. They supposedly even had the grave of Daniele Comboni destroyed to prevent a pilgrimage.

Historically, the form of Islam practiced in the north is not considered a radical one. “My aunt is Muslim. But she always slaughters a pig for me on Christmas,” a Catholic cleric from the Nuba Mountains remarked, describing the religious tolerance one sees in day-to-day life. In general, Sudan does not seem to have a fanatic Islamic population. The veils of the women are often carelessly draped. The people, it seems, have enough to do with organising their daily lives and survival that they are not worrying about the observance of Sharia law in every aspect of their daily lives. A severe economic crisis has shaken the country, largely due to the secession of the south. The secession cost Khartoum 75 per cent of its oil revenue, about 30 per cent of the overall national budget. This led to cuts in energy and food subsidies. A potential for unrest. Which is why the ever-present police state is being especially vigilant.

Meanwhile, Sharia has now become the law of the land all the way through to the penal code, which includes floggings and other corporal punishments. The renunciation of Islam is a capital crime. As is blasphemy or insulting the prophet and his companions. Sudan’s foreign policy may recently have become less aggressively Islamic – in the 1990s, terrorist leader Bin Laden stayed for some time in the country – but little has changed in its interior. However, as long as they are members of registered communities, non-Muslims can usually practice their faiths without constant harassment. But things are a little more difficult for the representatives of unregistered communities, such as the evangelical free churches. Just recently, Czech preacher Petr Jasek was pardoned by the president after being sentenced to 23 years in prison. The man had been accused of spying. In reality, though, it was because he had aggressively proselytised among Muslims – a red line. However, even registered churches are strongly discriminated against. The country is still a long way from the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution. “Churches are being torn down each month,” a cleric said. “You never hear that about mosques. And if, then because they had to make room for a street and the mosque is rebuilt somewhere else.” Approval to build new churches is practically never granted. The church manages by using multipurpose buildings for divine services. The Catholic Church in particular despite massive discrimination is on fair terms with the government because of its charitable endeavours. Hospitals and more importantly schools relieve the burden of the state, making it more amenable to the concerns of the church. Especially prestigious schools are even attended by the children of ministry officials. This is not a disadvantage in a country where “friendship” is the underlying force of all things. This may be the reason why the state tolerates the large number of clerics from the south who lost their Sudanese citizenship through independence, transforming them into foreigners in the north. Visa-issues for foreign clergy remain a huge problem for the church though.

In spite of the many governmental restrictions, however, the church is actually its own worst enemy. Financially, the church is completely dependent on the support of the world church, the clergy is spiritually burnt out, tribal rivalries are often more important than communion in the body of Christ. “We are only at the very beginning of evangelisation here,” Archbishop Michael Didi of Khartoum confirmed to Aid to the church in Need. He has been the head of the national church since November 2016. “Up until now, we primarily focused on the figures. It was considered a success when a large number of people had come to be baptised. However, we baptised so many heathens without there having been a conversion,” the spiritual leader from the Nuba Mountains and thus one of the few native Christian North Sudanese, said. “Many people also misunderstand Holy Baptism. They bring their children to be baptised because they are sick and the parents believe that baptism will bring healing. But that is not the proper attitude. It shows us that the faith has not really taken root. Moreover, our local traditions are very strong,” In concrete terms, this means: going to Mass and then visiting a witch are not considered mutually exclusive.

The doctrine of marriage is especially problematic. The archbishop said, “The people want offspring and heirs at any price. And this is why they often have more than one wife. And if they only have one wife, but the marriage sanctified by the church remains childless, they take a new one. That of course cannot be reconciled with the Christian concept of marriage.” Archbishop Didi would like to react with a catechetical offensive. “We really need to start at the very bottom here and evangelise the culture. After all, it is not as though the doctrine of marriage is not being understood when you try to explain it to the people.” However, despite the many difficulties, the archbishop is not disheartened. “It gives me joy that the people are happy and proud to be Christians. They also wear Christian symbols with pride and conviction. And the people enthusiastically take part in church life. As I said, we lack depth. But the people have good intentions and an open heart for Christianity.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][bs_single_modal][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.


Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.


What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.


Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.


¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.