"Our task is not to reduce difficult situations and the complex histories of peoples, regions, and nations in Africa in an effort to find simple solutions. Nor do we pretend to speak for Africa, for the peoples and nations of Africa, or for the Catholic Church in Africa. Rather, we stand with the Church in Africa; we seek to call attention to Africa's problems and potential; we want to amplify the voices of Africans, so that they can be heard by a sometimes distracted world."
- U.S. Catholic Bishops, A Call to Solidarity with Africa
Dioceses in the United States dioceses have found solidarity partnerships with dioceses in Africa to be enriching experiences of communion with other members of the Body of Christ and a means of deepening bonds of solidarity with a Church in need. Such "twinning" projects have included exchanges between African and American dioceses, reciprocal spiritual formation programs, development assistance grants, public advocacy, and educational programs to increase awareness and involvement with the Church and the peoples of Africa. Six initial ideas for building relationships of solidarity with the Church in Africa include the following:
* Encourage exchanges between seminaries and schools in the U.S. and Africa: African seminarians make up 20% of the global total, and 15 million African children are enrolled in Catholic primary and secondary schools. At the same time, many dioceses have to turn away seminarians due to lack of space in seminaries, and there is a great desire among African Catholic students to learn more about their American peers. Such exchanges can help make the "other" truly "brother."
* Receive African missionaries: The number of priests in Africa has increased by 73 percent during the past 25 years, and more and more of these priests are engaging in "mission in reverse," coming to the West to help re-evangelize Europe and North America. Other African priests
and sisters are sent to the U.S. for further study in theology, languages, business, or information technology. Consider inviting African missionaries into your diocesan parishes.
* Organize an African liturgy for your diocese, inviting the local Church to gather to celebrate the spiritual gifts of their African brothers and sisters - both those in their neighborhoods and those living a continent away.
* Organize diocesan solidarity trips to Africa: A Ugandan proverb captures the importance of solidarity trips in stating that "you cannot hear the mouth crying unless you hear the mouth eating." Africans are some of the most hospitable people in the world and eagerly anticipate any guest. Those who have visited Africa before know how the experience can transform one's worldview - there is no substitute for seeing Africa and her peoples with one's own eyes.
* Promote a voluntary collection for the Pastoral Solidarity Fund: The Church in Africa nearly tripled during the papacy of John Paul II, growing from 55 million to 144 million members; the Catholic population makes up about 17% of the African total and is growing at an annual rate of 8%. The Pastoral Solidarity Fund has been established to address the burgeoning needs of this vibrant Catholic population, but it depends on the generosity of the American Catholic population. The Subcommittee assures you that your contributions will be effectively used. The Subcommittee is building relationships and capacity before distributing grants and has developed clear criteria for grants in the following pastoral areas: catechetical programs, seminaries/ seminarians, continuing education of clergy, communications/mass media, and Catholic education and schools.
* Advocate on behalf of the peoples of Africa, organizing a legislative action network for your diocese. The statistics are sobering: 70% of Africans live on less than $2 per day; more than 40% live on half oft hat total. Nearly 30 million Africans are living with HIV/AIDS, and the pandemic has produced 12 million additional orphans. More than 40 million children-about half of the sub-Saharan total-are not receiving even a primary education, and 20% of Africans live in countries severely disrupted by conflict. Since U.S. and international policy can have a positive or detrimental impact on this painful reality, it is vital for American Catholics to remain critically engaged with their government's policies towards Africa. Please note recent USCCB advocacy statements on issues impacting Africa.
In addition to the solidarity work of the USCCB and American dioceses, we encourage individual American parishes to build relationships with their brothers and sisters in Africa. This form of concrete solidarity puts a human face on both the great gifts and the vast challenges facing the Church in Africa. We have suggested six acts of solidarity below:
* Pray regularly for our brothers and sisters in Africa. Prayer must always be the starting point and foundation for our work of solidarity. Too often we fail to recognize the power of prayer and how important it is for our brothers and sisters in situations of great difficulty to know that we truly are one with them in the Spirit. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est
, "people who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone…In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service. In her letter for Lent 1996, Blessed Teresa wrote to her lay co-workers: "We need this deep connection with God in our daily life. How can we obtain it? By prayer".
* Preach and teach on the challenges facing the Church in Africa and what we can do to help. Consider organizing an annual educational "African Sunday" in conjunction with the solidarity collection.
* Advocate on behalf of the peoples of Africa. Individuals and groups within the Catholic Church in the United States are actively engaged with the Church in Africa in the promotion of human rights, debt relief, increased development assistance, demobilization of child soldiers, promotion of peace in troubled regions, and protection of the environment. We encourage parishes to help Catholics to educate themselves about Africa and commit themselves to the promotion of justice, peace, and development through public advocacy. Consider signing up for your diocese's legislative alerts and note recent USCCB advocacy on issues impacting Africa.
* Give generously to the collection for the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. The Church in Africa nearly tripled during the papacy of John Paul II, growing from 55 million to 144 million members. The Pastoral Solidarity Fund has been established to address the burgeoning needs of this vibrant Catholic population, but it depends on the generosity of the American Catholic population. The Subcommittee assures you that your contributions will be effectively used. The Subcommittee is building relationships and capacity before distributing grants, and we are also developing clear criteria for grants in the following pastoral areas: catechetical programs, seminaries/ seminarians, continuing education of clergy, communications/mass media, and Catholic education and schools.
* Travel to Africa to share daily life with our African brothers and sisters. A Ugandan proverb captures the importance of solidarity trips in stating that "you cannot hear the mouth crying unless you hear the mouth eating." Africans are some of the most hospitable people in the world and eagerly anticipate any guest. And those who have visited Africa know how the experience can transform worldviews - there is no substitute for seeing Africa and her peoples with one's own eyes.
"A parish reaching beyond its own members and beyond national boundaries is a truly 'catholic' parish."
--U.S. Catholic Bishops, Called to Global Solidarity