The Rt Revd Joseph Marona, Archbishop of Sudan, has just returned from a pastoral visit to displaced Sudanese in the Middle East at the invitation of the Bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem. The ten-day visit provided an excellent opportunity to build on existing co-operation between the different Provinces of the Anglican Communion in responding to the suffering of more than 1.5 million people displaced by the continuing conflict in Sudan.
During his visit, Archbishop Marona met with religious leaders and expressed a shared concern for justice and the alleviation of suffering. Peace was a priority for all the families of Sudan. In Damascus the Archbishop met with the Grand Mufti and in Cairo he was received by Sheikh Mahmoud, the Deputy to the Grand Sheikh of El Ahzar, the highest Islamic theological authority in Egypt.
The Archbishop also met with the Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church and with Pope Shenouda III, Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The Archbishop had the opportunity to experience the Coptic Church's rich heritage of desert monasticism with a visit to the Monastery of St Macarius in Wadi Natrun. The site has been used for prayer and solitude since 360AD, but the monastery has undergone a significant revival and development during the last 30 years, now accommodating over 100 monks. In Syria, the Archbishop visited the Monastery of St Takla, the 1st Century female saint converted through the preaching of St Paul, who God rescued from persecution by creating a miraculous passage through the Ma'aloula Mountains. "If God is able to open the biggest mountain for the sake of one girl who asked for his intervention, why can't we as Sudanese pray mightily for God to remove the problems we are suffering from," the Archbishop exclaimed.
Archbishop Marona expressed heartfelt gratitude to the churches in Egypt and Syria for the generosity of their welcome and support offered to the Sudanese people: "The door you have opened for our Sudanese people will not be forgotten." He recognised the serious difficulties of responding to such great needs. The Joint Relief Ministry programme at All Saints' Cathedral in Cairo now had more than 15,000 displaced people registered, of whom more than 80% were Sudanese. Its clinic had seen more than 10,000 patients last year, but more funds were urgently needed. Income generating projects encouraged skills development, such as in making jewelry and other craft items. Efforts were being made by several churches to provide education for displaced children.
In Damascus, the Archbishop participated in the Licensing Service of a Sudanese chaplain, the Revd Stephen Khamis, to work amongst the displaced Sudanese, an appointment made possible by the generous support of the congregation of All Saints' Community Church in Damascus and the Diocese of Jerusalem. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Riah, spoke of his first-hand understanding of what it meant to be a refugee: "Sudanese and Palestinians are facing the same problems of being in exile. We are praying to God to give peace in Jerusalem and in Sudan and in all the Arab world."
The Archbishop's visit was a great encouragement to the displaced Sudanese, many of whom live in very difficult conditions. The Archbishop visited one make-shift home in Cairo for which high rents were charged but which provided shelter for 8 children and adults. He also visited a temporary school staffed by volunteer teachers displaced from Sudan. For many, the wait for re-settlement has no end in sight. The Archbishop prayed for peace to allow people to return to Sudan and rebuild their homes and communities. "It is my prayer that you will be able to go back to Malakal and to every other place, but you must go back as a new people. There must be new flesh, new spirit, a new body and a new understanding."
Archbishop Marona's visit to Egypt and Damascus was made at the invitation of the Bishop in Egypt, the Rt Revd Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, and the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal and was sponsored by SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad). Archbishop Marona is head of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, the largest Church in Sudan: there are estimated to be some 5 million members. The first ECS church was founded in Omdurman in 1899 as part of the Diocese of Egypt and Sudan before Sudan later became a separate Province within the Anglican Communion. It now has 24 dioceses of its own. However, close co-operation with the Diocese of Egypt continues, as well as with other neighbouring Dioceses, particularly in providing pastoral care for the many displaced Sudanese in the region.
26th July 2001