Sudan civil war leaves no seminarians and almost no Catholic Church

Sudan Church A priest celebrates Mass in Sudan before the outset of war. | Credit: ACN

The third Sudanese civil war has terribly affected the entire country but especially the local Catholic Church, which — according to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — has no seminarians and has practically disappeared from the country.

Since April 15, 2023, armed clashes have broken out in Sudan between the Army, commanded by President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, the vice president of the country.

Both sides jointly deposed the transitional regime, established after the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. Once their objective was achieved, the Sudanese Army and the RSF clashed for control of the country’s wealth, especially for the gold and oil.

Hamdan owns several gold mines in the country’s north. In 2022, according to official figures, Sudan exported nearly $2.5 billion in gold (41.8 tons), making it the third-largest producer of this precious metal in Africa.

The army side of the conflict controls real estate and companies of all kinds, which they refuse to hand over to a civilian government that doesn’t align with their interests.

According to ACN, none of the belligerents is willing to give in, and the future of the civil war looks bleak.

During the last year, more than 13,900 people have died as a result of the violence and more than 8.1 million people have been forced to leave their homes (1.8 million people have fled the country), according to official figures.

This tragic situation has reduced the presence of the Catholic Church in Sudan “to almost nothing,” according to the pontifical foundation. Kinga Schierstaedt, head of ACN projects in Sudan, noted that before the war, Catholics represented only 5% of the population.

The Catholic Church “was tolerated and could run some hospitals and schools, although it wasn’t allowed to openly proclaim the faith,” he said. More than 90% of the Sudanese population professes Sunni Islam as a religion.

After the overthrow of the dictator Al-Bashir, some guarantees of religious freedom improved in the African country, such as the abolition of various punishments mandated by the Sharia penal code (Islamic religious law regulating all public and private aspects of life).

ACN explained that the Sudanese people have always considered the Church as a “safe haven” and that when the war broke out many took refuge in churches. However, many missionaries and religious communities have been forced to leave the country, so parishes, hospitals, and schools have stopped functioning. 

The Khartoum preparatory seminary also closed its doors. Some seminarians managed to flee to the neighboring country of South Sudan, where they continue their training. Many Christians have had to leave the country on foot or by way of the Nile, only to end up in refugee camps, where survival “is a daily battle.”

Meanwhile, the bishop of Khartoum, Michael Didi, has not been able to return to the city, and the bishop of El Obeid, Tombe Trile, now lives in the cathedral because his house was partially destroyed.

While the continued existence of the Church in Sudan is in question, there are hopeful signs that the destruction will not be total: “Sixteen new Christians were baptized in Port Sudan during the Easter Vigil and 34 adults were confirmed in Kosti. So we have to keep hope alive in the midst of darkness,” one of ACN’s project partners in the country said.

Sudan and South Sudan share the same bishops’ conference. From this sign of unity, ACN continues to support the most vulnerable and the victims of the violence of war.

“The Church in South Sudan is getting ready for the future by helping the Sudanese Christians to prepare for tomorrow’s peace,” Schierstadt said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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