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NEW YORK – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have renewed a longstanding pledge of solidarity with Africa, highlighting a blossoming Catholic population and the need for the U.S. government to provide the continent with more support.
The document, A Renewed Call to Solidarity with Africa that was published on July 26, seeks to “commemorate and rekindle the grace and vision” of a similar document from 2001, and “recommit the church in the United States to solidarity with Africa.”
“Considering the challenges and opportunities that Africa faces and considering the strong bonds of communion that the church in the U.S. and Africa share, we believe now is the time for us as the Catholic Church in the United States to renew our solidarity with the church and the people of this land,” reads the document.
“The Committee on International Justice and Peace is committed to its ongoing support to the church in numerous countries and will continue to encourage the U.S. government to increase financial and other assistance to strengthen humanitarian relief, integral human development, and peace-building efforts for Africa, with due respect for cultures, traditions, and ethical principles of each of the nations of Africa,” the document continues.
The document comes at a time of particular turmoil for Catholics in Nigeria. The country was also recommended as a Country of Particular Concern in the United States’ Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report, citing “widespread and egregious religious freedom violations by both state and non-state actors.”
Most recently, the dead body of a Nigerian priest was discovered on July 19, four days after he was abducted from a parish rectory in the country’s central region. In total, 20 priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria since the beginning of 2022, including five in the first week of July. In early June, gunmen killed dozens of parishioners worshiping at a Catholic Church in the country’s southwest region.
The USCCB document notes that the Committee on International Justice and Peace is working with the church in Nigeria to address the rise in conflict and build an election monitoring and education program to promote fair and free national elections in 2023.
Throughout the broader continent the document cites both rising terrorism and governance as challenges that threaten progress. It notes that nine sub-Saharan African countries face violence from terrorist organizations, including Boko Haram and Al Shabab. The Fund for Fragile State Index shows that 20 out of the 30 most unstable countries around the world are in Africa.
In terms of governance, the document cites 2020 Freedom House report data that only four African countries are free democracies – Ghana, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Twenty one are partly free with flawed electoral democracies, and 18 are led by authoritarian regimes.
“Poor governance remains a root cause of much of Africa’s problems and risks holding back future progress on the continent,” the document states, noting that “economic and social progress must also be built on greater political stability.”
The continent faces challenges with education, health, agriculture, and climate change that threaten future progress as well, according to the document.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, announced the document at the 19th Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) taking place in Accra, Ghana.
In a statement, Burbidge said the committee “recommits itself to stand alongside the church in Africa,” which has grown exponentially in recent years.
Africa accounted for almost 60 percent of the worldwide increase in Catholics in 2018, added almost 1,700 priests in 2019, and in 2019 was the only continent to increase the number of major seminarians with 509 men. The church in Africa also has more health care centers, hospitals, primary and secondary schools than any region in the world, according to the document.
The USCCB invites Catholics to contact their members of Congress to “encourage them to pay more attention to the promotion of integral human development and peace in Africa,” as well as make a financial donation to the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa through their parish collection or online giving platforms. The fund has provided $31.7 million in grants to most of the episcopal conferences in Africa.
Commenting on the document, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith of Portland, chair of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Church of Africa, said it “reinvigorates the bishops’ vision for the Subcommittee’s Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa that directly supports the pastoral capacity of the local Church in Africa.”
Smith said, “I commend the reading and study of this document to the faithful and all those who wish to further our Christian solidarity with the church across Africa.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg