by John Lindner
My CRS colleagues told me during briefings that in southern Sudan the Church is civil society, meaning it handles many services typically dispatched by government.
The priests I met in southern Sudan also talked about the church as civil society, emphasizing in particular how it accommodates community leaders who need a neutral place to work out conflicts.
In eastern Equitoria, the Sudanese state I visited, you see evidence of the Church everywhere. Signs at major public projects list the agencies responsible for the work. Most frequently, they list the diocese of Torit, CRS, and USAID.
Both my colleagues and the Sudanese priests insisted the Church is not in love with the fact that it has assumed many tasks of government. First of all, the Church has Church work to do, ministries, diocesan business, aging buildings of its own. Second it doesn’t have any of the typical powers of government. Doesn’t have and doesn’t want power to collect taxes. Doesn’t have and doesn’t want power to enforce laws. The bishops, priests, religious sisters and brothers and lay leaders chose Church roles; they did not choose to be mayors or governors or city planners.
So I had the word of humanitarians and clergy that the Church and her partners (of which there are too many for me to list here) undergird civil society in southern Sudan. And I saw evidence of their work everywhere. Finally, a representative from the government itself weighed in.
I asked Dr. Luka Moloja, minister of health for the Government of Southern Sudan, “How important is the church to the community?”
I expected something perfunctory and official and safe like: “Oh goodness, yes, the Church! Long may it prosper. Great people. Good show, etc.” Politician speak.
Instead, what I heard from Dr. Luka could have come from a diocesan spin meister, but with considerably more gravitas:
“The Church,” he said, “is the community. It is the assembly point. Even when they have other social programs, it is here. It is a religious place, a social place and an educational place.”
It is civil society in southern Sudan.
CRS web managing editor John Lindner traveled to southern Sudan to report on peacebuilding. This is the first of a set of posts on the work the Church and CRS are doing in southern Sudan.
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