Saturday, June 25, 2005

Christian Life in Islamic Sudan

The Word From Rome : "Sudan... is home to the largest Arabic-speaking Christian population in the world. [From] a Sudanese priest who recently finished his doctoral work in Rome, 'Christians are not allowed to build churches. In Khartoum, they have a series of "centers," which are legally classified as schools but are also used for communal worship. That worship, by the way, has to take place on Friday, because it is the only day people have off from work. Sunday Mass is celebrated, but very few are able to come. Police will sometimes disrupt the services, or bar the gates to keep people away; the vicar general of the Khartoum archdiocese recently spent a week in jail after showing up to celebrate Mass on Friday.

When John Paul II visited Khartoum in 1993, the priest said, the government brought food and drink into Christian-dominated refugee camps, telling them the pope would visit them and there was no need to go to his Mass, in an attempt to keep turnout low. On the day of the event, they shut down bus service and minimized television broadcasts, worried that the event might give a political boost to the Christian minority.

When young Christians want to enter the university, this priest said, they generally convert to Islam and take Muslim names, because otherwise the most prestigious programs are denied to them. Most, he said, remain Christians "in their hearts." This has created a debate within the Christian community, he said, between those who believe Christians shouldn't engage in this kind of subterfuge, and those who see it as a practical necessity. Many Christians in the north, he said, hide their religious affiliation on the job or even among friends.

This priest said things are to some extent getting better, in part because of pressure from the American government. (For that reason, he said, many Sudanese Christians rejoiced when George W. Bush was reelected, counting on him to keep it up). At least officially, the Sudanese government no longer insists on applying shariah, or Islamic law, to Christians.'

There are an estimated 3.8 million Catholics in Sudan, and a roughly equivalent number of other Christians, especially Anglicans. "

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