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Bishop's visit shows difference between Rome, Canterbury.

OXFORD, England -- The New Year visit to Sudan by Anglican Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury was politically and religiously controversial. It might be called a disaster.

By confining himself to the mainly Christian southern Sudan, where one faction of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, SPLA, holds sway, and by refusing to accept government hospitality in the capital, Khartoum, Carey brought about the expulsion of British Ambassador Peter Streams.

Carey's visit was compared most unfavorably with that of Pope John Paul II, who did a nine-hour stopover in Khartoum Feb. 10, 1993. John Paul accepted the hospitality of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir's government.

But he then seized the occasion to lambaste the government's deplorable human rights record. Before 20,000 people, not all of whom were Christians, he issued a vigorous appeal for religious tolerance between Muslims and Christians.

The contrast between the two visits illustrates a broader difference between Rome and Canterbury in their approaches to international affairs, particularly in relation to Islam. Invited by the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Carey wanted to visit his own people in and around Khartoum and in Juba, "the historic heart of the Episcopal church and seat of the Anglican archbishop of Sudan," as he put it.

To make it utterly clear that he was visiting fellow Christians rather than the government, which is, he rightly believes, persecuting them, he proposed to stay in Khartoum with British Ambassador Streams.

Carey canceled his visit to Khartoum when the government wanted to take it over. This decision, a government statement declared, "caused offense to the Sudanese sense of honor. ... It is unacceptable in all traditions to go to a place as a guest and, after accusing his hosts of lying and deceit, to snub their hospitality."

If a Muslim leader visiting Britain said he would see only Muslims, he would not be made welcome. Yet the road to disaster was paved with good intentions. Carey intended no snub. He simply did not want his program manipulated by the government. But he compounded his offense by flying into Nibule, a rebel-controlled area just over the border from Uganda where there are thousands of refugees both from the civil war and from the war between the two wings of the SPLA.

Such flights are illegal. Small aircraft chartered in Nairobi give false flight plans with destinations in Kenya or Uganda before taking off for the southern Sudan.

Carey was enthusiastically welcomed. In some places he was greeted by crowds waving the red cross of St. George -- a crusader's flag.

If one of his aims is to prevent the church from splitting along the lines of the SPLA, he did not succeed. He visited only Akot and Yambio, two towns controlled by John Garang, leader or one faction in the internal civil war in the south. He did not reach any of the places controlled by Garang's former deputy, Riek Machar, now leader of the rival army.

The Episcopal Church in the Sudan is divided in other ways. One bishop, Gabriel Roric Jur, works with the foreign ministry in Khartoum; another, Peter el-Birish, received 80 strokes of the lash for alleged adultery.

In Khartoum, Carey's visit was interpreted not only as a snub. Because the Church of England is established and because Muslims, anyway, have difficulty separating politics from religion, the visit was seen as a ploy in the age-old British policy of supporting secessionist movements in the South with the aim of dividing it from the North -- as in the colonial days of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium.

The Sudanese have not forgotten Gen. George Gordon, who died at Khartoum, and the terrible vengeance wreaked on the Islamic rebels -- led by the man known in England as "the Mad Mahdi" -- at the battle of Omdurman, Sept. 2, 1898.

Those events are not so distant for Hassan Turabi, the soft-spoken doctor of philosophy from the Sorbonne in Paris, who is the brains behind the Islamic revival in the Sudan. He visited John Paul in October.

Critics said the pope should not be receiving a man who excels in promoting fundamentalist Islam in as positive a light as possible, while remaining blind to its excesses.

But this is an instance of the Vatican's playing a longer game than Canterbury. John Paul thinks his evenhandedness during the Gulf War and his defense of Bosnian Muslims have earned him sufficient credit in the Arab and Islamic world to act as a credible peacemaker.

He wants to put an end to crusades and jihads. He seeks to tap into the Islamic tradition of tolerance, which is based not on the 18th century Enlightenment, but on the Quran itself.

The Quran distinguishes Christians and Jews from the mass of unbelievers, describing them as "the People of the Book." It advises: "Dispute not with the People of the Book, save in the fairest manner."

That is not, admittedly, a principle much observed in Sudan where sharia or Islamic law was formally introduced -- for everyone -- in December 1992. But unless there is to be a fight to the death, dialogue must be the way forward. The Vatican Council for Inter-religious Affairs, headed by Nigerian Cardinal Francis J. Arinze, deals with this dialogue with Islam. It works on the principle, "Undertake the impossible, but accept the provisional."

Carey, a plain, blunt man, was working on the Amnesty International principle: There is nothing governments fear more than exposure in the world's media.

His visit has drawn attention to the persecution of Christians and the forgotten war in the southern Sudan. But his appeal can be effective only if he can speak for the voice of universal conscience rather than the voice of the old colonial power. A Polish pope, with a noncolonial past and an effective backup team, is better able to do that.
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Title Annotation:Anglican Archbishop George Carey visits Sudan
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 14, 1994
Words:965
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