The Referendum in January 2011 and the secession of South Sudan in July led to a different celebration of Christmas this year—on both sides of the north/south border.

In South Sudan, The Dean of All Saints Cathedral Rev. Fraser Yugu said that this year’s Christmas was far much different from other years with huge church attendance by Christian followers, including returnees from different countries. The celebrations were peaceful with no cases of violence registered.

Rev. Yugu said, “The celebration of this year was dedicated for prayers of South Sudan Unity by calling on all tribes to forgive one another, reconcile, and unite as one people of South Sudan.”

Both Archbishops of the Catholic Church and Episcopal Church in South Sudan, Paolino Lukudu Loro and Daniel Deng Bul, respectively also rallied their call for unity of the country. They decried the ongoing inter-tribal conflict in Jonglei, nepotism, tribalism, corruption and disunity.

Other religious leaders in their Christmas messages and Sunday preaching also called on the people of South Sudan to stop fighting, reconcile and develop love among the tribes, unite as one people and abstain from corrupt practices. Daniel Deng on Sunday urged the people of South Sudan to totally change and embrace peace. Victor George a Christian believer also commented that it was a good Christmas and Christians were hopeful that changes will come in the Country when the New Year begins.

In Sudan (north), much has changed, according to Bishop Ezekiel Kondo, and for the nation, since the holidays last year. Though, as bishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and the former chairman of the Sudanese Council of Churches, he is more in the minority than ever. South Sudan, with its large Christian population, became an independent nation over the summer, making for a Christmas of mixed feeling of joy and fear.

“There is an idea that Southern Sudanese have gone, therefore, the church has gone. That is not true,” Bishop Kondo said. “Sometimes, I am asked, ‘When will you go to South Sudan?’ ‘But I’m not from the south,’ I reply!” he said.

Bishop Kondo is from South Kordofan, a state dominated by ethnic Nuba, who are divided between Islam, Christianity and African traditional religions. Fighting erupted there last May between government forces and rebels allied with the party that now governs South Sudan. Thousands fled, including Archdeacon Hassan Sudan.

While concerns weigh heavily on the minds of many Sudanese Christian leaders, Bishop Kondo pointed out that Sudanese government officials had expressed a keenness to work with them. “The Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments have approached us to know what the timetable of services and celebrations are this Christmas, to come and congratulate, but to also make sure people celebrate peacefully,” he said. “I think this is a good gesture.”

“Despite the concerns, a Khartoum Christmas will go on this year. We won’t have turkey for dinner, but lamb, groundnuts, dates and baobab juice to drink,” said Nabil Bolis, an Episcopal teacher, with a smile.

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