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Sudan Archbishop: 'We must evangelize the culture'
"Families must learn to see the need for priests as something that concerns them directly."
Archbishop Michael Didi Adgum Mangoria has been in charge of the Archdiocese of Khartoum since November 2016. Archbishop Michael Didi recently spoke about the situation of the Church in Sudan with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
By Oliver Maksan.
What do you see as your biggest pastoral challenge?
I am concerned above all about education and the formation of the faithful in general. But I am particularly concerned about the spiritual formation of the religious, the seminarians and the priests. Their numbers have suffered greatly since the division of the country in 2011, when many of our staff left us to head back south.
To what extent has the division of the country in 2011 affected the life of the Church?
Massively, because the greater part of the clergy and our pastoral co-workers were originally from the South. Here in the North there are very few native Christians. And even today we are in a situation where the overwhelming majority of my clergy are not from the North. Of the 51 priests and deacons only five are from the North. The rest are all from the South. This has consequences in terms of their right of residence. Following the split between North and South, the South Sudanese automatically lost their citizenship in the North. And so they are often at best tolerated here. Theoretically they could even be expelled from the country. But the authorities have understood how important the clergy are for us in the Church. So for the present we have no problems in this regard, thank God.
What is the situation with regard to priestly vocations?
Rather bad. Unfortunately, we have only a few seminarians. And the reason for this is hard to put our finger on. But undoubtedly it has to do with the fact that the mentality of young people has changed. Perhaps the strict discipline that I still remember from my own formation is no longer attractive. But perhaps also there is a lack of awareness as to how crucial the priest is for the Church. We are after all a sacramentally ordered Church. And so without priests there can be no Church. Consequently, we will have to encourage a deeper awareness of this among the people—above all in the families. They must learn to see the need for priests as something that concerns them directly.
How deeply rooted is the Catholic faith in Sudan? After all it only arrived here in the 19th century.
We are only at the beginning of the evangelization. We need to rethink the way in which we proclaim the Word of God. Until now we have tended to look above all at the numbers. It was seen as a success if many people were baptized. But we baptised so many heathens without there being any real conversion. Many people also misunderstand the meaning of baptism. They bring their children for baptism because they are sick and they think that baptism will heal them. But this is not the attitude we need. And so the faith is not really deeply rooted, but above all it is not fully understood. What is more, our local traditions are still very strong.
Can you give an example?
Yes, take the question of polygamy. The people want to have offspring and heirs at any cost. And so they often have several wives. And if they have only one wife, to whom they were married in church, but don‘t have any children, then they take another. That is of course not in accordance with the Christian understanding of marriage. And they also do not understand that our priests are not allowed to marry.
How are you responding to this?
Well, we have to really dig deep here and evangelize the culture. It is not in fact the case that there is absolutely no understanding for the teaching of the Church on marriage, when we endeavour to explain it to people. But we have to make them more fully conscious of it. This is a catechetical challenge of the first order, which I intend to tackle with my priests. We also need to form our catechists better. But above all it is up to us bishops and priests to proclaim and bear witness to the faith. But as I have said, we cannot play down the problems, above all in conveying the teaching of the Church on marriage. We are fighting here against a deep-seated cultural mind-set.
What encourages you when you look at your local Church?
I take joy in the fact that the people are happy and proud to be Christians. They also wear Christian symbols with pride and conviction. And the people are strongly involved in the life of the Church. As I said, what is lacking is the depth. But the people are of good will and have an open heart for Christianity.
Given the fighting in South Sudan, many South Sudanese Christians are also fleeing into the North.
Yes. This is a massive challenge for us as the Church. We are talking of several hundred thousand people who have fled to the North from the South. As the Church we are considering launching a major appeal to address the humanitarian challenges. In addition to the war refugees in the camps there are also those South Sudanese who, following independence, wanted to make their way back to their home lands, but have been forced on account of the war to remain in the North. Theoretically, they are not allowed to work here officially, because they have no papers. That has serious consequences. We in the Church are trying to help where we can. Above all we are trying to teach the children in our schools. But there are so many of them, and our resources are limited. We don‘t even have enough money to feed the children. The need is great; we cannot cope with it alone.
St Matthew's cathedral in Khartoum, Sudan; ACN photo