“In Sudan, bishops and priests have been living as de facto illegals. They are not allowed to have passports and are denied legal status—they cannot leave the country and would likely be barred from returning should they leave.” That’s the report by Bishop Eduard Hiiboro Kussala of the Diocese of Tambura-Yambio, in South Sudan.
In a July 10 interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop said that “priests have already been expelled; and the bishops are condemned to remain silent.”
When Sudanese Catholic convert Mariam Ibrahim refused to renounce her faith and was put on death row—forced to give birth to her baby in prison, her other child kept beside her—the world finally paid some attention. Even Hollywood superstar George Clooney condemned the mistreatment of Christians in heavily Islamist Sudan.
Mariam Ibrahim, though released from prison, is still threatened with the death penalty for not converting to Islam. She awaits her fate holed up in the US Embassy, barred from leaving the country even as the US has welcomed her and her family. And her case is but the tip of the iceberg, says Bishop Kussala.
On paper, “Christians in Sudan have the same rights as their Muslim compatriots,” the bishop explained. The country’s 2005 interim constitution states that “no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.” The reality on the ground is starkly different.
It is how the hardline Islamic government of Sudan punishes the Church for having supported the right of the people of South Sudan to vote in favor of independence. “The Church has always called on those with political responsibility to respect the dignity of the people,” said Bishop Kussala, which includes “their freedom and their vote in favor” of the creation of South Sudan, the majority of whose population is Christian. Now the Church in Sudan “is being made responsible for the South’s break-away,” the bishop said.
He insisted, however, that “the Church does not pursue any political aims. We only call upon politicians to respect freedom of religious faith and conscience.”
“Christians in Sudan can attend divine service unmolested, but there is no genuine freedom of religion and conscience in the country,” the bishop added, noting that the “disgraceful case” of Mariam Ibrahim is but one example among countless cases of violence, blatant discrimination and harassment.
Sudan is estimated to be home to more than 3 million Christians. Who will help put the international spotlight on their suffering—especially now as even the dramatic story of Mariam Ibrahim is fading from the headlines?
Bishop Kussala calls on Catholics everywhere, especially those in the West, to pray for their largely forgotten brothers and sisters in faith in Sudan. He also urgently asked them to do what they can to bring the suffering and persecution of Sudanese believers to the attention of their countries’ lawmakers. “Don’t let them remain invisible,” the bishop concluded.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)