"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
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
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
What encourages you when you look at your local
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
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.