By Steve Paterno
February 3, 2013 - As the republics of South Sudan and that of Sudan are going through a turbulence path, the world’s attention is drawn away on the conclave, the process of electing a Catholic Pope. Christianity or rather Catholicism is deep rooted in Sudan, dating back to the time of antiquity. However, in a modern history, the first batch of Catholic missionaries to have arrived in the country was in mid 1800. Those missionaries had to maneuver through a treacherous ground and landscape.
First, they have to encounter Islamism, a formable and powerful religion, which emerged in 7th century. By that time, Islamism already dominated the northern part of the country and wiped out any semblance of Christianity that used to reign supreme. Then, those missionaries also had to advance southward of the country to proselyte the pagans, yet again, facing adversities and uncertainties of their missions.
Among those missionaries who had earlier on arrived the country was a young Italian priest by the name Daniel Comboni. In their expedition deep south of the country, the tropical climate never played favor to them. Malaria and other diseases almost decimated the entire team. All but Daniel Comboni survived the expedition to continue with the legacy of the missionaries. In his last gasping breath, the superior of those missionaries whispered to the team, “if it should happen that only one of you be left, let him not give up or lose confidence…Swear to me that you will not turn back.” In a firm and resolute response, Comboni assured his superior, “Africa or death!”
Inspired by Holy Spirit, Comboni quickly realized the arduous task ahead of him. He then designed a grand plan under the motto of saving “Africa through Africa.” Today, Sudan boast two saints, Daniel Comboni and Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese native who escaped the cruel hand of slavery and went on to becoming a nun. Even though Sudan now is separated into two countries, the Catholic Church stands the test of its universality—remaining the only fabric that unites the two countries, despite all the hostilities due to the contrast between the southern Christians and the Islamic north. Such symbolism of unity today is exemplified by the fact that the two Sudans are represented by Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako in the ongoing conclave.
Like Jesus Christ proclaimed, “upon this rock I will build my church,” which will survive the test of time and all the adversities. Therefore, the Church will continue to remain the vehicle for unity in the two Sudans. Hopefully, with the conclusion of the conclave, the world will refocus its attention in the two Sudans. The post referendum agreements between the two countries are yet to be resolved, or otherwise the prospect for yet another bloody war is looming on the horizon. It will require the resolve of the international community to settle the disputes between these two countries, once and for all.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org