Millions of people the length and breadth of Sudan are being invited to join a program of prayer preparing for the country’s all-important referendum on possible cessation of the south.
Launched in parishes on Tuesday, September 21st, to coincide with World Peace Day, the 101 Days of Prayer is an initiative of the Catholic Church in Sudan encouraging people of all faiths to pray for peace in the run-up to the vote on the political future of South Sudan, due on January 9th, 2011.
The appeal for prayer comes at a time of mounting political tension as debate intensifies between those – especially in the north – advocating a united Sudan and others pressing for separation.
In a country ravaged by Africa’s longest-running civil war (1983-2005), political and Church leaders have already warned that the run-up to referendum could test the country’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to breaking point.
Sporadic fighting has been reported in different parts of the country, including attacks by militant groups including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Khartoum said the 101 Days of Prayer could play a crucial part in ensuring the country remains committed to peace.
He said, “The message which comes out of this prayer initiative is that of reconciliation and forgiveness. All of those involved – both those who vote and everyone else – should be in dialogue rather than giving into feelings of tension and predicting violence ahead of time.”
“We need to look at this [referendum] process as a peaceful journey, a time which is above all accompanied by prayer, putting God first in each of our lives for the good of our country.”
Involving each of the nine Catholic dioceses in Sudan, the 101 Days of Prayer looks at the theme ‘Change your heart, change your world’ which was discussed in Masses celebrated in parishes yesterday at the start of the prayer campaign.
Each week participants will be invited to meet together to look at particular issues – justice, peace, community-building and forgiveness, with ideas and suggestions fed back to priests and bishops.
A booklet has been prepared with daily quotations and prayers for each of the 14 weeks of the initiative.
The Prayer of St. Francis, which underlines the importance of peace, is also being distributed to parishes, as well as to justice and peace committees and prayer groups.
Bishop Adwok said, “What we want people to think about are the obligations of living in peace, that everybody has to be involved in the process and that we need to reflect on what Pope John Paul II said that if you want peace you have to seek justice.”
Bishop Adwok explained that the prayer initiative was the idea of religious orders – Sisters and priests – working in Sudan and that it coincides with a similar program being organized by the country’s Anglican Church.