Christians ask Pope to lift Sudan's 'curtain of silence'

MONSIGNOR Paride Taban trekked across the front lines of Sudan's civil war, dodged the shells of a new government offensive, and joined eight fellow clerics in Uganda on Saturday to deliver a message to Pope John Paul.

'Do not let yourself be blinded by the red carpet in Khartoum. The hands you will shake will be full of Christian blood,' the message said. It pleaded with the pontiff to 'help us lift the curtain of silence' - a curtain which Bishop Taban said hides widespread religious and ethnic persecution.

Bishop Taban and other Sudanese Christians view the Pope's visit to Sudan with both hope and fear. Ironically, so do Sudan's Islamic leaders. Of all the stops on the Pope's eight-day African tour, the last one today in Khartoum is the most controversial.

An international pariah condemned by the United Nations, the European Community and the United States for human rights violations, cold-shouldered by its Arab allies, Sudan has been looking forward to today. According to Gutbi al-Mehdi, the political director of Sudan's Foreign Ministry, the Pope will see 'the falsehood of reports and allegations that reach the Vatican'.

The Vatican is among those who accuse Khartoum's fundamentalist-dominated government of violating human rights by trying to impose Islamic law on the Christian and animist minority in the south of the country. This point was underlined yesterday by the Foreign Office Minister Douglas Hogg, who told the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that in Sudan there is no freedom of religious expression and that the most fundamental of human rights are abused. The Vatican, aware of the dangers of giving the government unwarranted respectability, is promoting the trip as an expression of solidarity with southern Sudan's beleaguered population.

On Monday the pontiff told diplomats in neighbouring Uganda that conditions did not allow a full pastoral visit, but that in visiting the capital he wished to show support for 'peace and justice for all the Sudanese people and to comfort my brothers and sisters in the faith, so many of whom are affected by the conflict in the south'.

Sudan's long-running conflict is commonly seen to pit Muslim against non-Muslim and Arab against African in a war between the predominantly Muslim-Arab north and the black Christian-animist south. However, according to Mohammed Suliman, the deputy director of the Institute for African Alternatives in London, there is a growing economic element to the war that does not distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim. The persecution of black Muslim Nuba tribesmen in south central Sudan, whose fertile lands are much-coveted, is a case in point.

Sudan's leaders are trying to give the lie to reports of repression and restrictive measures against the Christian church by talking of tolerance and a multi-faith society. The Catholic church has been supplied with scarce petrol for the visit; today's Mass will be broadcast live on television; missionaries expelled from the south have been told they can return. But the big question still, according to one Sudanese exile in London, is: 'What is going to happen after the Pope has gone?'

(Map omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project