Until three years ago the meeting had to be held in neutral territory abroad, in Uganda, Kenya or Italy because southern bishops could not get to Khartoum and northern bishops could not travel south. When a peace deal was signed in Kenya in 2005, putting a stop to the conflict that was tearing the country apart, this situation came to an end. In 2006 and 2007 Sudanese bishops were able to meet inside the country but only in November of this year they were able to meet in the southern region.
Thus the bishops and leaders in charge of the Conference's various sectors were able to reflect upon the country's situation. They acknowledged that many steps forward had been taken, that weapons had fallen silent, that internal movement was now possible and that overall security had improved, but they also recognised that all is not well, that a certain malaise is affecting the population, something unsurprising since expectations in the peace accord were too high.
For the bishops something more can be done, each one at their own level. In particular they are hoping that politicians will be moved by a sense of the common good and be able to create a positive environment for society and the family. They also hope that the faithful may feel called to get more involved and feel greater responsibility to improve everyone's life.
From this perspective recent remarks from three Sudanese bishops are of great value.
The first comes to us from Mgr Antonio Menegazzo, bishop of El Obeid, who represented the bishops of Sudan in the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome. In his address at the Synod he spoke about the achievements of evangelisation in the last one hundred years, admitting though that evangelisation had not sunk deep roots and that a second evangelisation was needed, one that focused on having evangelical values internalised and experienced in one's existence. For him the proof of true evangelisation lies in the new life that it generates.
The second is Mgr Daniel Adwok, auxiliary bishop of Khartoum. In a recent meeting by pastoral activists with a delegation of the South African Church in visit to Khartoum, he said—in response to a question about what the Church did during the war years to prepare Christians for the post-war period—that the Church hierarchy made a great contribution, for example in its Letters to the Church of the Sudan which relayed many texts taken from the Church's social doctrine. He did none the less admit that at the level of the laity the post-war period showed that that message was not much heeded. He cited for example the case of Catholic professionals from the Diocese of Khartoum, the Magi. As soon as job openings became available people jumped on the chance to pursue their own interests irrespective of weather they were Catholic or not. Similarly, he said that many Catholics are in parliament or in government departments but have failed to live up to Christian values; and this, in his words, even if only for show in a Muslim environment where religion comes before all else.
The third prelate, Mgr Paride Taban, bishop emeritus of Torit, on a short stop in Khartoum, talked about the sadness he feels every time he has to travel through Juba, in southern Sudan. Every day hundreds of trucks from Uganda and Kenya arrive filled with all sorts of goods that could be made in Juba and instead are imported from abroad. Besides, many jobs that could be done by Sudanese are given to foreigners. The reason in his view lies in the fact that the locals lack a spirit of initiative, having become accustomed during the war to be, in the bishop's own words, 'dependent'. The southern Sudanese, who built Khartoum, had raised expectations that they could put their experiences to good use to benefit their own families and country; instead they have given up on building their own homes and cities. Sadly for the bishop too many people seem to believe that they have a right to make a living without working and that this is some kind of compensation for the many years of war and deprivation they suffered.
Rightly the bishops talked about a culture of peace replacing "the culture of death", urging the faithful to do something wherever need is crying, expose injustices, and cooperate with Muslims of good will to promote justice and peace. But such a culture of peace must rest on values of honesty, competence and hard work. Perhaps these values ought to be stressed more in school and when providing a Christian education.
Too often religion is seen as a series of notions that one must learn and a set of practices one must execute. School is still seen too much as a way to get a diploma and a salary rather than a place to train for work and life's responsibilities.
Trying to get a job without making any real effort will in the end favour a culture of violence.
In Juba the city is abuzz with stories of gangs harassing people. Even in Khartoum Masses have to be celebrated under guard to prevent 'lost boys' from taking advantage of large gatherings to carry out their criminal designs.
The Gospel parable that refers to talents (Mt, 25:14-30) epitomises this period of transition. In the end we shall be judged on love, but love is expressed by how we use the talents we have in an attitude of gratitude and service. The Sudanese have a treasure trove of talents; what a pity it would be if they failed to realise it and did not use them. Could this be the problem?