Churches in Sudan's north fear repression after split

Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:00pm GMT

By Opheera McDoom

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Churches in Sudan's mainly Muslim north are trying to reassure their dwindling congregations that they will be safe after the south splits, but Christians fearing repression are still leaving in their droves.

The main churches in the north are resolute they will remain open despite the expected secession of the south in a plebiscite expected to split Africa's largest country.

Southerners are mostly Christian or follow traditional religions. The north has been under Islamic law since 1983.

"Even if there is just one Christian left in the north we will be here because the shepherd cannot leave his flock," said Catholic Quintino Okeny Joseph, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Khartoum.

The week-long referendum is the culmination of a 2005 north- south peace deal which ended Africa's longest civil war, fought between Sudan's mainly Muslim and Arab north, and the south.

Joseph said Sudan's Catholic Church has had a hard time.

He said the government did not recognise their marriage certificates and had confiscated the Catholic Club -- a massive compound greeting visitors entering Khartoum from the airport.

It has been repainted in Islamic green colours and houses the headquarters of the northern ruling National Congress Party.   Continued...

<p>Christians join a parade in support of the referendum on south Sudan independence in Juba, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya</p>
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