Churches Celebrate Start of ‘101 Days of Prayer’ for Sudan

Sudan Mass

A crowd of around 500 gather for mass in the archdiocese of Khartoum in Sudan on International Day of Peace. Photo by Amanda Schweitzer

On September 21, the International Day of Peace, the Catholic Church of Sudan officially kicked-off its 101 Days of Prayer toward a peaceful referendum. Throughout the country parishes celebrated by holding large church services which promoted the importance of peace, non-violence, collaboration, and community prayer. I was fortunate enough to attend one of these masses at St. Matthews Cathedral in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum.

St. Matthews Cathedral is a dramatic Italian-style edifice with vaulted ceilings, stunning stain glass windows, intricately designed mosaics depicting biblical teachings and severely uncomfortable wooden benches equipped with punishing food rests. The Church sits along the Blue Nile River and is located in the same compound as the headquarters for the Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum.

Sudan church

Mass was held at St. Matthews Cathedral in the archdiocese of Khartoum on International Day of Peace. Photo by Amanda Schweitzer

Prior to arriving at St. Matthews for the celebration, I was not sure what to expect given that Khartoum, and Sudan in general, is predominantly Muslim. Demographic reports claim that Sudan is made up of 70% Sunni Muslim (in north), 5% Christian (mostly in south), and 25% indigenous beliefs. Based on those statistics, I did not anticipate a big turnout for the event nor for the Church to orchestrate an elaborate service. I was definitely proved wrong.

The event attracted well over five hundred people from all over Khartoum and literally from all over the world. As I meandered through the crowd I heard people speaking English, Dinka, Nuer, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, German, Chinese, Korean, Juba Arabic, and a smattering of local tribal languages from both north and south Sudan.

Despite his health issues, the mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Khartoum himself, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako, together with the co-adjutor Bishop of El-Obeid, Michael Didi, and in attendance were more than 40 priests, 50 nuns and dozens of other religious clergymen and women.

The mass included a dance troupe of young children adorned in tribal costumes, dramas related to the messages of non-violence and peace, community supported prayers urging a peaceful referendum process, and joyous singing, chanting and ululating from the choir and parishioners.

Despite the fact that the entire three-hour mass was all in Arabic and I didn’t understand most of what was being said—I have only just started taking Arabic language classes—the overall enthusiasm and veneration of the parishioners was contagious. It was incredible to witness so much hope from a community whose future is so uncertain. Many questions related to the status of southerners living in the north (and vise-versa northerners in the south) still remain unanswered and will probably remain so way after the referendum vote takes place. Yet, the community seems optimistic and is putting its faith in God that the pre- and post-referendum period will be peaceful and that there will not be a resurgence of violence.
From translations we received from the Archbishop’s Communications Officer, His Eminence in his homily said, “It is an important time for all the Sudanese to pray for a common desire of peace, the true peace requires confession and deep spirit of repentence and forgiveness to oneself and with the other.
“We are spiritually invited to look into one’s life and conscious before pointing fingers to the other. During these 101 days, we should not forget the Sudan Catholic Bishop’s Message of Hope for the coming Referendum.” The Cardinal called all Sudanese to, “be serious in the crucial few remaining months before casting votes for the 2011 southern Sudan Referendum.” He called upon all to “continue praying for peace and the Lord of peace will give us the True Peace”.
When the mass ended, parishioners greeted each others with smiles and warm remarks. Many came up to me and the other CRS employees to thank us for coming and to wish us a peaceful referendum period. Women were jumping up and down together and singing in their local dialects.

The event was invigorating and reminded me once again of why the peacebuilding and emergency preparedness, relief and recovery work that CRS is doing in northern Sudan is so important. A peaceful referendum can only take place if both the north and the south are willing to work together to ensure that such a process ensues. While international focus tends to be on the south, it is important to remember that there are millions of Sudanese in the north who will be just as affected by the outcome of the referendum vote. The referendum vote is not just a southern vote; it is a Sudanese vote, because in reality the effects will be country-wide.

I feel blessed to be here at this moment in Sudan’s history and to be poised to assist the millions of southern Sudanese in Khartoum who are hoping, wishing and praying for a peaceful and free Sudan, no matter what the outcome of the referendum vote.

Amanda Schweitzer is a CRS fellow stationed in Sudan

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One Response to “Churches Celebrate Start of ‘101 Days of Prayer’ for Sudan”

  1. Mary Lou Geist Says:

    Isaw you on EWTN’s THE WORLD OVER and was glad to be able to learn about the prayer days for peace and a favorable referendum.
    I have donated to Bishop Gassis Sudan Relief Fund and I trust his mission. I am happy to join you in prayer at this time. Please pray for our country too as we are in a definitive election, which too will decide life or death of millions of the unborn and elderly. The abortion holocaust too must be listed in the “NEVER AGAIN” crises in history. God bless you for all you do in His Name!!

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