This year’s Easter Azande Mass for Greater Portland’s Sudanese community at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was more subdued than in past years.
Last year more than 20 children were baptized in a service than ran more than four hours in the cathedral’s nave.
This year only a few children were brought to be baptized, a sign that many in the community were in mourning as civil war rages in the African nation of South Sudan, church officials said. The service was moved to the Portland cathedral’s smaller side chapel instead.
Many in the congregation are from several villages and towns, including Parajok in the eastern part of the country and Wau and Raja in the west, all torn apart in the past two weeks by warring government forces and rebels.
“They are not happy. Parents must be happy to bring their children in,” said Michael Augustino, a deacon candidate for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Sudan in 2000.
Despite the somber political events in South Sudan, Sunday’s Easter service was joyous, as 200 participants filled the chapel with the music and dance of South Sudan.
Two men played a wooden instrument adapted from a xylophone. Others played drums and tambourines while a chorus of voices soared.
The congregants were dressed in Easter finery, with women in long gowns made from bright African patterns and satin fabrics, the little girls in pastel dresses and intricately braided hair.
The Rev. Lokwiya Kalisto Ben presided, delivering a sermon that referred to the troubles in South Sudan.
“All the people of South Sudan are suffering,” Ben said.
Ben, who came to the U.S. in 2015 from South Sudan, is a student at Catholic University of America in Washington and travels to Portland several times a year.
He said Easter baptisms are traditional in South Sudan. The adults generally are baptized on Holy Saturday while the children are baptized on Easter – “because it is the day of the resurrection of the Lord and a sign of the beginning of new life in the risen Lord,” he explained.
The Mass was celebrated in English and Azande, the language spoken by most of Maine’s Sudanese immigrant population. Arabic and Acholi, another Sudanese dialect, were also used in the service, said Martin Sungoyo, general secretary of the congregation, which holds regular services at the cathedral.
There are roughly 3,000 Sudanese immigrants in Maine – about 2,000 live in the Portland area and the rest mostly in Lewiston. Sudanese refugees started to arrive in Maine in the 1990s from refugee camps that they fled after civil war broke out in Sudan in 1983.
There was a population surge in Maine in 2000 triggered by the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. Since then the numbers of new Sudanese refugees has dwindled.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: