The head of a grouping of Roman Catholic bishops in Africa has urged Sudan’s government to respect the results of an upcoming referendum on self-determination for the southern part of Africa’s largest country.

“Anybody trying to go against the majority… can be sure that he is turning against the will and the plan of God,” said Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, the Catholic archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, while leading prayers on Nov. 7 in Rumbek in southern Sudan.

Pengo, the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, was speaking in advance of a special meeting of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“It is our hope and prayer, [that] the will of God expressed through the majority will be respected as such, as the will and plan of God,” said Pengo.

The Jan. 9 referendum on independence for southern Sudan is part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Nairobi that sealed the end of a 21-year-long civil war which led to the deaths of more than two million people.

The conflict pitted Sudan’s south, where Christianity and traditional religions predominate, against the north, where most people are Arabs, and Islam is dominant.

Separately, the leaders of two international Christian groupings urged religious and political leaders in Africa and around the world to assure a free and fair referendum and for all to abide by the results.

The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, said the referendum should be held on the date promised, be free and fair, and the results accepted by all parties.

“We have come to a point where we need to say the people of the Sudan have suffered enough and the people of Sudan must have the right through democratic processes to define and decide their own future,” Tveit said in an interview issued on Nov. 11 by the Geneva-based WCC.

Tunnicliffe said, “We have both been there and we’ve listened to the church leaders, and to underscore the fact that for 50 years Sudan has suffered greatly, we believe that the people of Sudan need a better way.”

A separate referendum in the oil-rich Abyei region between north and south Sudan will determine whether it should be part of the north or the south of the existing country.

In a Nov. 10 statement, the Sudan Catholic bishops urged African governments to ensure the referendums be “free, fair and transparent” and to respect the choice of the people of southern Sudan.

They also urged that minorities in northern and southern Sudan be “recognized and protected.”