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Christmas Day Message to Members of Ottawa Sudanese Community  

David Kilgour

at the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada

289 Spencer Street, Ottawa

December 25, 2002

A very blessed Christmas Day to all of you!

This is evidently the second service many of you have attended earlier today or last night.  It is meant to bring together in fellowship families and individuals from Sudan on one of the most important days of the Christian year.

Permit me therefore to offer a message which touches briefly on four issues:

  • The meaning of today for most Canadian Christians,
  • The need for reconciliation and forgiveness among faith communities,
  • The role of Sudanese women today, and
  • The peace negotiations in Machacos.


Whether Jesus was actually born on December 25th is, of course, far less important than the fact of his coming to the world.  Jesus himself never encouraged followers to celebrate his birth.  What is central is that God so loved human kind that he sent His Son to be born, to live among us in a world of pain, to understand everyone, to love and forgive all of us, and to die for each one of us.

Probably no-one in recent history caught the significance of Jesus' life in a relatively few lines better than the anonymous man or woman who wrote:

"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.  He grew up in another village.  He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty.  Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home.  He never wrote a book.  He never held office.  He never had a family.  He never went to college.  He never put His foot inside a big city.  He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born.  He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.  He had no credentials but himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him.  His friends ran away.  One of them denied Him.  He was turned over to His enemies.  He went through the mockery of a trial.  He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves.  While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth – His coat.  When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centrepiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that have ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life – Jesus."

In Ottawa, as in other capitals across North America and Europe, our challenge as believers is to separate the spiritual wheat from the commercial chaff during this season.  In a presumed effort to be inclusive of other faiths this year, a lot of really silly things have been done by many, including myself.  The sales staff at one clothing chain were even told to offer only "Happy Holidays" to customers.  In Winnipeg, the "multicultural tree", however, has been restored by the Manitoba Premier as a Christmas tree.  Persons of any or no religion can identify with the generosity, peace and-good-will-to-all and family dimensions of Christmas. 

Across sub-Saharan Africa, I understand that there is far more of the spiritual at Christmas, Africans are fortunate there.

Many of you have family still in Sudan, which must make this season especially difficult.  The Sudanese community evidently has become a substitute family for some of you. It's not so different in some ways than that First Christmas in which Mary and Joseph found themselves alone in Bethlehem when their first child was born.  They had the wise shepherds; you have each other.

Reconciliation / Forgiveness

A Canadian who lived for a decade in the Maldives, where the population is almost entirely Muslim, recently asked, "How can people of one faith reconcile with adherents of another if they essentially dislike each other?"

He went on, "Some Maldives' residents say that most pornography is produced in Christian countries."  If so, should you and I not point out that most Christians are just as concerned about this particular species of hate crime against women and children as are Muslims?  No doubt, those who produce, for example, child pornography are members of no faith community.

My friend from the Maldives, who is a Christian, introduced another subject.  When talking to persons of other faiths, he thinks it prudent to call himself a "Follower of Jesus" to separate himself from the Crusades, Inquisition and other understandably very bad memories for people of some other faiths.

You will perhaps be saying to yourselves, "But what about all the terrible things done in Sudan and elsewhere purposely in the name of another faith?"  The answer must be that anyone who kills or brutalizes people in the name of any religion, whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or whatever, dishonours their faith terribly.

Joseph Lagu

Let me know offer a true story of Christian-Muslim reconciliation from Sudan.

In 1971, as you know, Joseph Lagu was the leader in southern Sudan during the first civil war.  A plane from the North crashed one day in an area held by Lagus' troops, with 29 survivors.  The cry was for death, but Lagu insisted on reflecting overnight.  He recalled that Jesus asked how many things one should forgive, replied "seventy times seven."  The prisoners were accordingly released unharmed the next morning  Their account to Khartoun helped to persuade the government of the day to sign the Addis Ababa agreement, which ended the conflict for more than ten years.

Two decades later, Lagu and another general, Mohamed Al-Abdeen, a Muslim and a northerner, together shared a podium at a spiritual retreat at Caux, Switzerland.  The northerner told the audience: "We generals are living in the same room, very friendly.  He (Lagu) starts in the morning reading his Bible.  I read the Koran.  I have got something which we can share together because we believe in the same God.  A just and lasting peace can only be achieved through a process of reconciliation, compromise and confidence-building."

President Obasanjo of Nigeria, who knows well the difficulties in reconciling faith, politics and spirituality, has said. "true believers, be they Muslims or Christians, know all humans are created by God and ought not be harmed, but could."

Role of Sudanese Women

I'll mention briefly the changing role of women and men in Sudan as a consequence of the civil war, which has gone on, with some periods of peace, since 1955, and the resulting deaths and displacements of so many million civilians of all ages across the country.

Once, family security and the provision of a home were the responsibility of fathers, but today many mothers make key decisions about where to live, what to ear, what to eat and how to manage the finances.  Far too many Sudanese mothers are today the only breadwinners.  They provide security to the children while fathers are fighting on the front line with either the SPLA or the Government of Sudan.  Others are in prisons or have been otherwise separated from their families.

Consider what our dear friend Justin Laku has found Baba Maali saying about African women:

This is a hymn to the beauty, wisdom and importance of the African woman.  She is the earth and the sea, the sunshine and the deliverer of life.  It is her participation in every aspect of our lives culturally, politically and socially that we rely upon in the building of our new Africa.  Women of every country stand up and together protect our environment.  As we know, the environment is only as good as the woman who nurtures it.

Three decades and three years after Mary's oldest child was born, she watched Jesus be killed in a terrible way by occupying Roman soldiers.  Like so many Sudanese and other mothers who have undergone similar agony, Mary did not lose her faith in God.

The future of Sudan will probably depend in part on its refugees in distant lands like Canada.  You parents must ensure that your children obtain the best possible education and values, including a respect for the dignity of all persons, democracy and human rights.  In future, some of them and you will no doubt be able to return to build a prosperous, democratic and inclusive Sudan.

Peace Negotiations

On the current peace process in Machakos, Kenya, the International Crisis Group (ICG) concluded a week ago that it is now in a make of break time.  The earlier agreement of both sides on a cease fire and unimpeded aid access has been extended and a new memo of understanding on power sharing has now been signed.  The chief mediator, Lazaro Sumbbeiymo, says the ICG is doing an excellent job.  Leaders on both sides appear to be giving peace a chance."

Among the ICG recommendations to the various groups involved are these four;

1)The benefits of a peace agreement based on compromise by both sides must be sold throughout Sudan,

2)The government of Sudan must be urged to reschedule quickly the meeting of the Technical Committee on Humanitarian Affairs so that it can remove all restrictions on aid access and on the geographic scope of Operation Lifeline.

3)The SPLA should be transformed into a political party; good governance and economic development in the South should be recognized.  If the SPLA is responsible for a lack of progress in negotiation, it should be provided with no aid,

4)Those in Khartoun who are firmly committed to peace should be encouraged and pressured on the government there to reach a peace agreement must be continued.


We Christians know very well that Christmas Day only marks the beginning of our faith.  Easter and the death and resurrection of Jesus are, of course, more important for His estimated two billion followers alive around the world.  Incidentally, today, this figure is expected to grow to about 2.6 billion within 25 years.

In terms of numbers, which are often not really very helpful, we also know that there is basis for real optimism about the future of Christianity.  In Africa, for example, only about ten per cent of the population of about 100 million were Christians in 1900; today in a continental population of 784 million, about 46 percent, on 360 million, are Christians.

In Canada, the vast majority of us still identify with the Christian faith tradition – more than four-fifth in one survey I noticed recently – and the largest gathering of Canadians in our entire history from 800,000 to 1.2 million depending on the estimate – turned out last summer in Toronto to hear Pope John Paul's final mass for World Youth Day.

Our duty as Christians and in all the days of the new and every year is to attempt to be beacons of kindness, love and light among ourselves and with all we encounter in Canada and anywhere.  God bless Sudan!  God bless us all today!


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