A series of news stories lately can’t help but draw one’s eyes to the African continent. In early August, a Catholic church was attacked in Nigeria, where at least 11 worshippers died while Mass was being celebrated. Only weeks before, two priests were kidnapped at gunpoint in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Kenyans are fleeing an increasing number of attacks by local terrorists, and churches also are under fire in the Central African Republic. And this doesn’t even include the millions of people suffering from drought and subsequent famine across the continent. The Church in Africa — indeed the people of Africa — face such incredible need. And sadly, all too often, those of us who could offer a helping hand turn — for whatever reason — the other way.
We no longer can afford to do so. If humanitarian need isn’t enough to urge us toward philanthropy, we might consider that the U.S. Church is becoming increasingly reliant on foreign-born priests, a large percentage of whom are missionaries coming from Africa. Our awareness of the plight of those around the world has direct connections to the work of the Church here at home.
At my own parish, we recently welcomed a priest from Uganda. The first time I heard him preach was a homily during daily Mass on July 26, the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. He spoke with a warm and infectious enthusiasm for the Faith, using anecdotes from his life and relationship with his own mother. It brought me to tears. The Church is alive in Africa, and that life is making itself known here at home.
This fact also was evident at the annual convention of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States in late July. Jesuit Father Allan Deck, a theology and Latino studies professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, gave the keynote address, in which he noted that the foreign-born priests and religious were answering Pope Francis’ call to serve the peripheries. He acknowledged that leaving one’s home and entering a new, unfamiliar culture has its challenges as well as advantages.
“All of you, because you’re here in this country, have moved out of your comfort zone, but you know what? You must continue to do (that)!” Father Deck said. “People are mingling and encountering each other in numbers and in ways that they never have in all the history of the human race.”
And that can only mean good things for us as a Church.
Here are a couple of ways to support the people of Africa. Catholic Relief Services (crs.org) is providing humanitarian assistance to those who need it most. And the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops collects money for the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. Send your check to: Church in Africa, Office of National Collections, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, P.O. Box 96278, Washington DC 20090-6278.