In a large, dusty courtyard in Sudan's capital, exuberant shouts
of "Yesu Chrisoo" ring out amid the rhythmic thumping of tribal
drums. Two hundred Episcopalians have gathered under a giant shade
tree to praise, pray - and build.
After three decades of meeting in rented churches and borrowed
courtyards, the group is yearning to construct a cathedral. It'll be
a tribute to their faith, a place to educate their children - a
church of their own.
They did have a cathedral once. The Islamic government
confiscated it in 1971. It's now a national museum. Similar things
have happened for years. Just in the past month, officials razed 13
Christian churches in Khartoum's outlying shanty towns, according to
the Sudan Council of Churches.
But an end to Sudan's 20-year civil war - between mostly Muslim
northerners and Christian and traditional southerners - is in sight.
Conciliation is in the air. Officials appear to be moderating their
Now the test is whether Sudan can morph from an ethno-religious
killing ground into a modern melting pot with robust religious
tolerance. The outcome will deeply affect the future of Africa's
vastest country. And it could set a tone of religious civility for
the nearby Middle East, and for Africa, where Muslim-Christian
tensions are rising.
"The government is beginning to support all faiths," the Bishop
of Khartoum, Ezekiel Kondo, tells the congregation. "But we will not
succeed unless we continue knocking on the door," he says, meaning
they must raise money, scout land, and lobby for permission to
An impact on Africa
Whether they succeed - and whether Sudan succeeds - matters for
Africa. Growing numbers of Africans are converting to Islam and
Christianity. There's an inflow of Islamic fundamentalism. Both
trends are adding to - and sometimes causing - strife.
In neighboring Chad, low-level fighting continues between Arab
northerners and black African southerners. In Nigeria, the
government is fending off political and armed attacks from
disaffected Muslims. In Kenya, some Islamic leaders want strict
sharia, Islamic law, imposed. They threaten to secede if it's not.
"If a pluralist, democratic Sudan can be created," says a senior
Western diplomat here, "it can be a model for the rest of Africa."
Aiming to build a church is a leap of faith for this Sudanese
congregation. The government hasn't allowed a major church to be
built in decades. But things appear to be shifting, partly because
of international pressure. Western diplomats are pushing the
government to safeguard religious freedom. Sudan is yearning to
reestablish ties with the West - after years of antiterrorist
"Nations, just like people, can have moments of temper," says
Abdul-Rahim Ali Mohamed Ibrahim, a leading Islamic scholar in