February 7, 2023 // Perspective
Africa Is Not the Future, It Is Today
By the Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board
Often European and American Catholics cite the Church in Africa as the future of the Church. The World Christian Database projects that, by 2050, 32 percent of the world’s Catholics will be African. But it is a narrow view that casts Africa as the Church of the future. Africa is the Church of today. Home to more than 250 million Catholics, Africans already make up 19 percent of the global Catholic population. Africa is home to nearly one-fifth of our Church!
Popes have been visiting the continent since Pope St. Paul VI in 1969. During a welcome ceremony at Entebbe Airport, he declared, “Thanks be to God also for the marvels of His grace, poured out abundantly upon this land, and for the generous response of Africa to the Gospel message.” In the course of the trip, Pope Paul VI dedicated the Basilica of the Uganda Martyrs in Namugongo (a shrine to 22 African martyrs) and lobbied for the cause of peace in the face of the Nigerian civil war.
The people of Africa perpetually face great challenges — challenges related to poverty and violence and corruption. But how much do we pay attention? How often do we read the news stories, pray for the people who suffer, and assist them with our own resources? How often are the struggles of our brothers and sisters in Christ just white noise in the background of our day-to-day tasks?
That’s why an apostolic journey like Pope Francis’ trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan matters so much. Pope Francis departed on Jan. 31 and arrived in the DRC for a three-day journey before moving on to South Sudan. He returned to Rome on Feb. 5. The texts and visits of the trip will illustrate to the global Church the challenges faced by our brothers and sisters today — and, no doubt, call the world to action.
First among these is the civil situation. Many African countries continue to suffer civil wars and diplomatic insecurity. Paul VI’s first visit was marked by appeals for peace in Nigeria. Already in 2015, Pope Francis has visited Africa, making a journey that included stops in Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Kenya. But the themes of non-violence and peace endure: Pope Francis chose for the theme of the trip the phrase, “All Reconciled in Christ Jesus.” The current conflict in eastern DRC has led to more than 11,000 deaths and displaced 1.4 million people. The Holy Father will meet with victims of the fighting in the east. While 95 percent of Congolese people are Christian, the war rages on.
Second is the plight of migrants. While flying over the Sahara Desert on his way to Kinshasa, Pope Francis invited the journalists traveling with him to pause for a moment of prayer. He said, “Let us spare a little thought, in silence, a prayer for all the people who in search of a little comfort, a little freedom, have crossed it and have not made it.” Far from being a photo op, the Holy Father’s visit, which includes a meeting with internally displaced persons, will draw global attention to unseen and unspoken needs.
Finally, Pope Francis’ journey will conclude with a visit to South Sudan. On this portion of the trip, he will be accompanied by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the global Anglican communion, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Reverend Iain Greenshields. This ecumenical visit is intended to be a sign to the world of the ongoing work for Christian unity. Standing together in solidarity, these three Christian leaders will witness to the harmony of the Gospel in the midst of discord and strife.
Pope Francis’ voyage to Africa is a lifeline for many who are facing terrible challenges with no easy way out. Said one refugee to OSV News: “We have suffered for a very long time, and his coming means a lot to us because he is the only hope we have as people of South Sudan.”
Let us pray for Pope Francis during his journey, and especially for the people to whom he is ministering, that he might be that ray of hope, reminding the world that the people of Africa — the home of the Church today — need our attention, our support and, most of all, our love.
The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board is comprised of Father Patrick Briscoe, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, and York Young
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