Archbishop of Canterbury discusses religious freedom of Christians with Sudan's president

(Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir speaks during a press conference after the oath of the prime minister and first vice president Bakri Hassan Saleh at the palace in Khartoum, Sudan March 2, 2017.

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has raised the issue of religious freedom in Sudan during his recent meeting with President Omar al-Bashir.

Welby visited Khartoum last weekend to inaugurate Sudan as the Anglican Communion's 39th Province. The archbishop presided over the ceremony held on Sunday at the All Saints Cathedral, which included the installation of the province's leader, the Most Rev. Ezekiel Kumir Kondo.

The ceremony was hailed by the archbishop as a "new beginning" for Christians in Sudan, according to World Watch Monitor.

In an interview with the BBC, Welby said that he had "strongly" raised the issue of religious freedom when he met with al-Bashir the day after the ceremony.

"We talked of how in England we seek to help mosques in ensuring that they are able to function well and freely," Welby said, according to Sudan Tribune.

"In England, the Church of England often seeks to protect Muslims when they are under pressure," he explained, adding that he expected the same of Sudan when it came to protecting Christians.

During a meeting at the Guest House in Khartoum on Sunday, al-Bashir claimed that Sudanese Christians and Muslims are enjoying "peaceful coexistence," even at the "level of the family."

"The Christian churches or institutions have not been subjected to any aggression across history, which confirms that the Christian brothers in Sudan enjoy peace and live in love," the Sudanese president said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury also spoke of seeing Christians and Muslims "co-existing powerfully and effectively" when he visited the southern diocese of Kadugli in the Nuba Mountains prior to the ceremony in Khartoum.

During the Sunday service in Khartoum, Welby implored the government officials who attended the ceremony to respect the freedom of the nation's Christian minority.

"My prayer for Sudan is that there will be freedom continually so that Christians may live confidently, blessing their country. The more they are free, the more they will be a blessing to Sudan," the archbishop said.

Welby's visit came a few weeks after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom accused Sudan of carrying out arrests of religious leaders and demolition of churches.

Following a visit from EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figeľ, in March, the Minister for Religious Endowments promised to delay the demolition of more than 25 churches in the country.

However, the minister has since been replaced and at least two churches have been demolished. A church worker was reportedly killed when he tried to defend church property from government takeover.

During his visit in March, Figel also called for the release of two Sudanese pastors who were jailed along with a Czech aid worker. The aid worker had spent a year in prison before he was freed by presidential pardon in February. The two Sudanese pastors were eventually released in May.

The Open Doors' World Watch List currently ranks Sudan as the fifth worst persecutor of Christians in the world.

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