Birth of a nation

Tomorrow, a new nation will be born from the tropical southern part of Sudan. Simply named South Sudan, the new state will be home to anything from 7.5 to 13 million people. An estimated 3 million of these are Catholics, with another 1.1 million living in the remainder of Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim.

The breaking away of South Sudan from Sudan also divides the Catholic community of that country. All signs indicate that, for now, the bishops of both states will continue to meet in one conference, but they may also part ways (as far as any bishop ever can from his brethren) in the future to form their own bishops’ conferences. Most countries in the world, barring the smaller states, have their own bishops’ conferences, after all. And neither Sudan nor South Sudan can be consider a small state.

The map above shows the nine dioceses of both countries, with the ones in yellow belonging to the north, the rest forming the south. In a way, a future establishment of new bishops’ conferences is easy, as there are already two metropolitan archdioceses  which form the heart of both Church communities. The first, in the north, is Khartoum (2), with El Obeid (2) as suffragan diocese. Large jurisdictions with a relative small number of Catholic faithful, headed by Archbishop Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok in Khartoum, and Bishops Macram Gassis and Michael Adgum Mangoria (as coadjutor) in El Obeid.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako

In South Sudan, the picture is more varied, with six dioceses gathered around the Archdiocese of Juba (8), led by Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro and Auxiliary Bishop Santo Loku Pio Doggale. The other dioceses are Malakal (5) (vacant), Rumbek (4) (Bishop Cesare Mazzolari), Tombura-Yambio (6) (Bishop Edward Kussala), Torit (9) (Bishop Akio Mutek), Wau (3) (Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak) and Yei (7) (Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe).

What directions to the two Church communities will take remains to be seen, but it can be reasonably expected that the southern Catholics will orient themselves more towards the Church in east Africa, while their northern brethren will start to look more towards north Africa and the Middle East. At the very least, the northern dioceses will be odd ones out in the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa. On the other hand, ever since 1993, when Eritrea regained independence from Ethiopia, the bishops of these countries have continued to work together in one conference, the Eritrean and Ethiopian Episcopal Conference. Maybe this will also be an option for the two Sudanese countries, but one can never be certain in as volatile a region as the horn of Africa.

Cardinal Zubeir Wako is hopeful, at least: “Politically, the nation will be divided into two – the old and the new Sudan – but, religiously, the two Sudans will remain united,” he told Vatican Radio. Catholic Herald has more.