"We remain committed to work side by side with the churches", the president of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit has told representatives of an international ecumenical delegation in Juba, Southern Sudan.
"As the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SLPM) has always stood for the people, we have no problems with the churches", said Kiir, speaking at a meeting with a small group of representatives from an ecumenical delegation led by the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev Dr Samuel Kobia. "But our churches are very poor", Kiir added, "so they need the support of the international ecumenical family".
The meeting took place at the end of an eight-day solidarity visit to Sudan organized by the WCC and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and hosted by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC). From 26 March to 2 April, a group of international ecumenical representatives split in four teams to visit Khartoum, Darfur, Yambio and Rumbek. The visit ended in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan, where the visitors joined some 50 Sudanese church representatives - leaders, women and youth - for a three-day conference.
"Participants in this visit have come from all over the world", Kobia briefed president Kiir, "to listen and to see what Sudan is going through at this time". This shows "how much the constituencies of the WCC and the AACC are committed to journey with the people of Sudan through the Sudanese churches and the SCC". Among other things, the visitors and local church leaders explored how the capacity of the churches may be developed to contribute to building peace and reconciliation in the country.
President Kiir shared his views on the difficulties faced in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the devastating 21-year war between the predominantly Muslim north and the majority Christian south. By virtue of that agreement, Kiir is both the first vice-president of the government of national unity headed by President Omar El Bashir and the president of the autonomous government of Southern Sudan.
The previous day, the Minister for Regional Cooperation Barnaba Marial Benjamin took part in the final session of the Juba conference and briefed participants about the government’s views on a range of political, social and economical issues. "We are happy that the churches are alive and kicking", he said. "We have not forgotten the role played by the churches and the ecumenical community during the war", added Marial Benjamin.
In Khartoum, a delegation led by Kobia met the Minister of Guidance and Endowment Hassan El Tighani, whose office deals with Muslim and Christian affairs. The visitors thanked the minister for the help regularly provided on many issues and raised a number of concerns regarding some difficulties faced by Christians in the part of the country under the Khartoum government. The minister briefed the ecumenical representatives about the actions taken by his office. "Our focus is tolerance, coexistence and unity", El Tighani said.
Participants at the international ecumenical visit also met the Director for Gender and Child Welfare Regina Ossa Lullo, and the acting Director for Religious Affairs Moses Telar Cindul, both from the Government of Southern Sudan.