Christians in Sudan: second-class citizens

'Bishops and priests are living as illegals'

“In Sudan, bishops and priests are living as 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. He says that “priests have already been expelled; and the bishops are condemned to remain silent.”

It is not easy to be a Christian in heavily Islamist Sudan.

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 in chains beside her—the world finally paid some attention, including Hollywood superstar George Clooney.

The case of Mariam Ibrahim, though now released from prison, and, at last, safely settled in Manchester, NH, with her family, 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 explains. 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.

The hardline Islamic government of Sudan is punishing 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,” argues 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 charges.

He insists, 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 adds, 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 asks 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 concludes.


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