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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'