Translation of Le Figaro’s Article

We recently received the translated version of the French article written by France24’s Caroline Dumay, published in Le Figaro on April 28, 2016.

The original story can be found here:

Le Figaro

Thursday, April 28, 2016



In South Sudan, a Muslim’s Cathedral Dream

By: Caroline Dumay, special envoy in Torit (South Sudan)


Highlighted excerpts:

“Originally from Khartoum, Rudwan Dawod, who lives in the United States, has sworn

as a Muslim to rebuild the cathedral of Torit, in a South Sudan ravaged by religious and

ethnic wars. His mission of reconciliation has already gathered a number of supporters,

but Dawod thinks he can convince the Pope.”


“What Rudwan is doing is a gesture towards the other which we must accept to be

reconciled…. The Pope cannot but approve our project.”

— Mgr.Thomas Oliha, Apostolic Administrator of Diocese of Torit


Text of the article:

“I never killed, stole, or raped. I am not guilty of the massacres perpetrated by my

people in South Sudan. But I have a moral responsibility and I want to assist you.” In

these words, Rudwan Dawod, a Northern Sudanese Muslim, addressed the parish council

of Torit (Eastern Equatoria), 150 kilometers southeast of Juba. A native of Khartoum, this

Sudanese student got it into his head to rebuild the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul,

which was destroyed by the Islamic regime during the civil war. He envisions recruiting

Muslims, as well as Christians and Jews, in this slightly hare-brained ecumenical project,

located more than five hours by washed-out roads from the capital of South Sudan.

In a country having a hard time emerging from decades of warfare, Rudwan

Dawod is convinced that religious reconciliation among the Sudanese peoples is possible.

His initiative comes at a moment when the armed forces are taking a small step towards

peace. The head of the South Sudanese rebellion, Riek Machar, arrived in Juba from exile

Tuesday to form a transition government with President Salva Kiir. In accordance with

the peace agreement of August 26, 2015, the fraternal enemies will share power during a

30-month transition period, after which elections will be held.


The world’s youngest republic was born July 9, 2011 from the conflict between

the Christian south and the Muslim north. It fell back into civil war in December 2013,

producing 300,000 deaths and two and a half million displaced persons. The violence

which the nine million South Sudanese have suffered for the past two years, fed by ethnic

dissension between the Dinkas of President Salva Kiir and the Nuer people who support

his rival Riek Machar, has nothing to do with the preceding war. But it has pressed into

the collective subconscious the same feeling of distrust towards “strangers”.


Country with a tortured history

On the day when Rudwan Dawod got to Torit, the parish priest was teaching the

catechism under a framework with corrugated metal roofing. Scarred by fighting, the

cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul still stands at the end of the main highway. No one has

had the heart to rebuild it. Dressed in an immaculate white suit, among the faithful

wearing rags and seated on makeshift benches, the Muslim was assuring them, “Your

worship place is going to be rebuilt.” The children watched doubtfully.

“I don’t know what they told them during the war about North Sudanese, but it is

time to turn the page,” he told us after the ceremony. In South Sudan, turning the page

does not come naturally. Rudwan knows well the country’s tortured history. Like many

North Sudanese from Darfur, he studied at Juba University. “When I started in political

science in 2002, I had a lot of preconceived ideas about these Christian people who

always opposed the Arab-Muslim peoples”, the young Muslim confides. “For a long time

I was opposed to the independence of South Sudan.”


Rudwan realizes the struggle he went through to shake his Muslim indoctrination.

In the end he became part of the Christian community. He even married an American

volunteer, Nancy, whom he met in class at Juba University. “Nancy is a Christian, but I

never tried to convert her,” he says. Then he fell in love with Torit, a town on the

Ugandan border where Christians and Muslims more or less get along. This is the place

where conforntations between the religious communities first broke out in 1955. The

outskirts of the village are one immense cemetery where soldiers from both sides are



To make his good will believable, Rudwan has frequently recounted his personal

and political saga. He was one of the first militants against the regime of Sudanese

president Omar al Bashir, whose arrest has been ordered for genocide and war crimes in

Darfur by the International Criminal Court. With his Grifna (“Fed up”) Liberation

Movement he participated in the Sudanese stirrings of summer 2012. But the Khartoum

demonstrations were put down with blood. Rudwan was arrested July 3, 2012 and

tortured while in prison for 45 days. Extradited by the American embassy, he barely

escaped the death penalty. Since then he has lived in the U.S. with his wife and 3-year-
old daughter.


“I have lost twelve members of my family the successive civil wars. But we

cannot continue to hate one another!” says Mgr. Thomas Oliha. The apostolic

administrator does not hide the fact that the Christian majority found Rudwan’s initiative

quite suspect. “But what Rudwan is doing is to make a human gesture, a gesture towards

the other which we must accept in order to be reconciled,” he says. The prelate is

sufficiently taken with the young Muslim’s personality that he has promised to speak to

Pope Francis about it. “After all, this is the Year of Mercy and Pardon. The Pope cannot

but approve our project.” the churchman concludes. A South Sudanese delegation has

carried this message to the Vatican. Rudwan Dawod dreams of obtaining an audience

with the Holy Father.


If Rudwan’s initiative obtains the Vatican’s support, many doors will open. The

architecture department of the Catholic University of America has already offered its

services free of charge. Above all, the American NGO which supports the project will

more easily find funds. “This project is expected to run into hundreds of thousands of

dollars. We know we are taking a big risk, but the spiritual value of this effort makes it

worthwhile,” stress the Reverend Tom Prichard, founding president of Sudan Sunrise.

Tom Prichard is known in Juba chiefly for his association with Manute Bol. Bol was the

tallest American basketball player and devoted a large part of his time and income to his

birthplace, Sudan. Sudan Sunrise also has a relationship with Imam Mohamed Magid,

president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). This religious leader,

originally from North Sudan, who has on several occasions advised the White House on

Islamic matters, is one of the strongest backers of the project.


Urgent need for food aid

In a country where the first priority remains survival, finding a million dollars to

reconstruct a cathedral seems out of place. But in South Sudan, where everything is

lacking, nothing is ever refused. Where the only solid buildings are for governments, the

slightest effort is welcome. The last two years’ fighting have had less impact than the war

against North Sudan. “The two main ethnic groups who have been killing each other, the

Dinkas and the Nuers, are not from around here. It’s been fairly calm. What we mainly

suffer from is our people’s poverty,” observes Joseph Lagura, the diocesan secretary.

Last March 15 civil society informed the local press that 50 people had died of starvation

at Magwi, Ikwoto, Lopa, and Lafon. The Torit region is not an isolated case. Over 6

million Sudanese are in urgent need of food assistance.


Rudwan Dawod is still a long ways from being able to lay the first stone, but his

idea is gradually making its way. After having persuaded the Diocese of Torit and

planned the initial fundraising with Sudan Sunrise, he will have to find the Muslim

volunteers to participate hands-on in the reconstruction of the cathedral. The idea is to

start with a core group which will begin to mobilize both in South Sudan and in the



Before his return to the USA, Rudwan Dawod got together with his friends in the

courtyard of the Yam Hotel in the South Sudanese capital. The students were telling him

straight out of the difficulty they encountered in recruiting volunteers. “My father told me

I will go to hell if I eat with Christians,” said a female student wearing a scarf. A young

male student replied, “Mine told me he would kill me if I took part in the reconstruction

of this cathedral.” “If it’s hard for you to convince Christians, we too will need time to

convince Muslims. They are very conservative here,” explained his cousin Yacoub,

owner of a computer service stall in Nyokonyoko market. Yacoub had just finished

deleting from his Facebook page one more church burned by a Muslim. This sort of

incident continues regularly in South Sudan.


Unmoved, Rudwan Dawod listened attentively to these reports. He has promised

prospective volunteers that their security on the worksite will be assured. On a continent

where sympathizers with the Islamic State are growing in number, it is risky to get

labeled a traitor. “Some people think I am not a true Muslim, that I am a Christian

wearing a disguise. That is ridiculous,” says Rudwan. “My faith remains unchanged. I

practice it daily. But for me, this is true Islam. All religions should have one message: the

message of Peace.”


Translated from French by: Richard J. Jones