Letter from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
September 15, 2010
My brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church:
The Episcopal Church in Sudan has been a significant national leader and source for peace and reconciliation throughout the hostilities and wars in recent decades. Sudan is facing a referendum in January 2011, during which most observers expect that Southern Sudan will vote to become a separate nation.
As a fellow member of the Anglican Communion, Sudan’s fragile state is a matter for our own concern. Most of us know something of the violence and bloodshed in Darfur, which has been well publicized in the media. Many of us know about, and have even met, some of the so-called “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who immigrated to the United States as refugees beginning in 2001. The Episcopal Church now has a number of Sudanese congregations and communities of faith as a result.
Episcopalians have begun to learn about the violence that continues to face the people of Sudan both in south and north. The warring factions in Sudan reached a peace agreement in 2005, which diminished the level of violence, but did not end it. Part of that Comprehensive Peace Agreement called for a referendum on self-determination and possible independence for Southern Sudan, to be held in 2011.
The current political entity called Sudan is the result of its colonial history, linked with both Egypt and Britain. Since independence in 1956, it has been wracked by civil war and ongoing political and military violence. Sudan has significant natural resources, especially in the form of oil, most of which is located in southern Sudan. The centralized Sudan government in Khartoum is led by President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with international war crimes. Southern Sudan has a share in the national government, and is largely autonomous as a region. Northern Sudan is primarily Muslim and Shari’a law is the basis for justice. Southern Sudan is home to Christians and those who practice African traditional religions.
The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has approximately 5 million members, and has been a leader in seeking basic human rights, including religious freedom, as well as the hard work of peacemaking. Many observers believe there is a high likelihood for a re-emergence of violence in the build up to the referendum or in its aftermath, particularly over religious prejudice and control of the oil resources.
The world has a significant stake in peace in Sudan, for any violence unleashed there can quickly destabilize the surrounding nations of Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Central Africa, Chad, and Libya. The Sudanese bishops I met in 2008 told me vivid stories of watching arms being moved into southern Sudan by jeep and camel. Those bishops and their congregations, and many, many civilians around them, yearn for peace – for the ability to raise families and crops, to educate their children, and to worship God as they choose.
The United States is a nation founded on principles based on religious freedom, self-determination, and control of the resources of the lands we occupy. Native Americans would challenge those who came later about all of those principles and the ways in which they were (not) upheld, yet most Americans, whatever their heritage, see those principles as foundational. The United Nations holds similar principles as basic to human rights. Sudan is in the throes of a national struggle for basic freedom and human rights.
I want to challenge us as a Church to pray for the people of Sudan, to learn more about the forces driving the violence, and to advocate for a peaceful referendum, and whatever the outcome, a peaceful future. Our churchwide staff has prepared resources for use in your congregation and diocese.
The Episcopal Church can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Sudan as we enter a season of preparation by prayer, study, and action. As we approach the season of preparation for the Prince of Peace, we pray that his reign may be made real in Sudan. The prayers and labor of people throughout the world can help to prepare the way.
Your sister in Christ,
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate