By Manasseh Zindo
September 19, 2009 — Sudan is mourning the death of her Third Anglican Archbishop who succumbed to his to illness on Friday September 18, 2009 in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Sadness greeted me this morning when I was woken by a phone call to be informed that the Most Revd Joseph Biringi Marona is dead. I immediately called the current Archbishop Daniel Deng who confirmed that Marona was no more. His body will be flown from Khartoum to Juba, the headquarter of Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) where he will be laid to rest alongside his predecessors.
I cannot account my emotion without remembering October 20, 1998 when my late father was taken from us in a cruel, road carnage. Retired Archbishop Marona, 68, and my later father Daniel Zindo were known as twin bishops when they were consecrated in 1984 by the first Archbishop of Sudan The Most Revd Elinana J Ngalamu. I remember the colourful ceremony very well in Yambio. They were first consecrated in Maridi Cathedral where Marona would later become the first Bishop. My father was then enthroned as the second bishop of Yambio replacing the late Bishop Yeremaya Datiro who died in 1983.
My siblings and I would from the 1984 onward acquaint ourselves with Marona and Mama Eunice his wife. We would welcome them to Yambio frequently and they would reciprocate in Maridi. The twin hypothesis of Marona and Daniel Zindo was that they were nearly age mate, born in 1941 and 1942 respectively of parents who did know each other. The two men at some stage attended missionary school in Yambio in the 1950’s but the Lord would bring them together as the youngest priests to be consecrated bishops at 42 (Zindo) and 43 (Marona).
Archbishop Marona was loved in Yambio as he was in his own Diocese and he knew almost every priest in Yambio by name. When the civil war broke out in Western Equatoria the twin bishops were all away in Khartoum where they were confined but they Lord would one year later after the liberation of Yambio reunite them with their families in exile as Maridi became a bloody town where thousands of people were killed as the well equipped government forces resisted incursion by the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA).
Marona’s family had fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1990 while we went to Central Africa Republic (CAR). In 1993 Bishop Zindo returned from exile to work in the SPLA controlled area, his twin brother in the Lord followed him and back again they were in full control of their respective Dioceses. As it is commonly the case in leadership Marona and Zindo had to deal with bitter rivals from within their own clergy who felt they were short-changed when the two men were transparently elected bishops. Because of these enmities Zindo would later survive death attempts on his life including a well calculated car crash in the 1985 which he survived as his time was yet to come.
The two newly consecrated bishops were to encounter tougher times ahead when ECS was plunged into leadership crisis with Marona and Zindo standing by the newly and constitutionally elected Archbishop of ECS, His Grace Benjamin Wani Yugusuk who was recognised by the worldwide Anglican body as the primate of Sudan. The crisis emanated because the first Archbishop of Sudan His Grace Elinana Ngalamu did not accept his retirement and went on to consecrate rival bishops in each Diocese. It was difficult time for the ECS as I saw it.
Back to the twin bishops. In 1994 Zindo who was until then the Dean of ECS and Archbishop Yugusuk with Marona as the Secretary of the Episcopal Council managed to work out a modality that recognised the bishops consecrated unconstitutionally and ECS was once again reunited. In the same year, renowned Catholic bishop of Torit Paride Taban stepped down as chairman of the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), and Zindo was elected the new chair. He stepped down after his three term in office expired to assume his new role as the Acting Archbishop of ECS following the retirement of Archbishop Benjamin Yugusuk.
The story of Zindo and Marona resemble that of American tennis stars and twin sisters Serena and Venus Williams who once in a while are called to face each other in their quest for supremacy in tennis. Zindo and Marona faced each other in 1984 as well when they were consecrated assistant bishops under Yambio Diocese where there was a vacant, and one of them had to become Diocesan bishop. In the contest Zindo was elevated the Diocesan Bishop and Marona was his assistant until Maridi became a full-fledged Diocese.
Following Zindo’s departure at the helm of NSCC in 1997, Marona replaced him as the chairman and also served his three term in office. When Zindo suddenly died in a car crash, Marona replaced him as Dean and acting Archbishop until his election as the third Archbishop of ECS in bitterly contested election as we saw it in Limuru Kenya in 2000. Marona emerged and defeated his closest challenger Bishop Michael Lugor of Rajaf Diocese.
I met Marona many times and remember him very fondly that I do not know which occasion to account for but the most exciting encounter for us was in 1999. I was in London and Archbishop Marona was in the UK, he was travelling from Salisbury Diocese to meet Archbishop George Carry of Canterbury at the Lambeth Palace, and there was no body to receive him on arrival. Canon Andrew Deuchar then Secretary for Anglican Affairs at the Lambeth Palace asked me if I could receive Marona at Waterloo Station and take him over to the Palace. I accepted and was driven to the nearby Waterloo station. Marona arrived, looked around and started walking towards the exit; I don’t know where he was going, probably to take a taxi to the Palace. I approached him and he was amazed to see me, we hugged each other (the Sudanese way) and I look him to the Lambeth Palace.
Although the inevitable was to occur because of his deteriorating health, I did not expect it so soon. I last saw him in Juba in 2005 in poor health and he told me that he would opt for early retirement which he eventually did, and for which I saluted him for the bold decision. In this part of the world of ours, leaders want to cling to power until death but that was not Marona.
When he became the Archbishop in 2000 and accepted to return to Khartoum, it was a bold move too because we feared for his life but he was a fearless man who believed in God. God loved him and has now relieved him from this troubled world. I pray for Mama Eunice and the many children he was fathering. It is my prayer that the Lord will continue to take care of them.
Now that he has been reunited with his twin brother in heaven, I want to pay countless tribute to their reminiscence and exemplary work as bishops. They fought good fight and finished the race, may God reward them for dedicated service as true soldiers of the ministry to which they were called by God.
Manasseh Zindo is a Sudanese Media Personality, currently studying for a Masters Degree in Peace Studies & International Relations in Nairobi Kenya, and son to the late Bishop Daniel Zindo. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org