The Holy Father asks us to pray for the Christians of the continent, that they might be seeds of unity and beacons of hope
He highlights the far-reaching work of the Church, which, thanks to its network, manages to reach the most remote locations, where neither governments nor non-governmental organizations can have an impact.
As the African bishops have already pointed out, and as is quoted in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “there have been frequent attempts to make the African countries ‘parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel. This is often true also in the field of social communications which, being run by centers mostly in the northern hemisphere, do not always give due consideration to the priorities and problems of such countries or respect their cultural make-up.’”
Africa is home to 17.6% of the world’s Catholics, according to data reported in the 2018 Pontifical Yearbook.
The Catholic Church in Africa is characterized by its dynamism: the number of Catholics grew from just over 185 million in 2010 to more than 228 million in 2016, which is a relative growth of 23.2%.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has established itself as the African country with the greatest number of baptized Catholics, with more than 44 million, followed by Nigeria with 28 million; the numbers in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya are also significant and on the rise. Indeed, there has been a 3% increase in ecclesiastical circumscriptions in Africa, making it the continent with the greatest growth in demand for pastoral services.
Of the 15 countries in which there has been the greatest increase in the percentage of baptized Catholics worldwide, four of them were on the African continent (Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Uganda and Angola).
In the words of Pope Francis, “The ethnic, linguistic, and tribal divisions in Africa can be overcome, promoting unity in diversity.”
The Holy Father asks that we pray during this month of May, which is especially dedicated to Mary, “that the Church in Africa, through the commitment of its members, may be the seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for this continent.”
For his part, Jesuit Fr. Frédéric Fornos, director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (which includes the Eucharistic Youth Movement), emphasizes that “in order for the Church in Africa to be a seed of unity among all its peoples, the Christian community must live to a greater degree this unity in diversity, according to the desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘May they all be one’ (John 17:21).”
This is what Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”: “Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace.”
It is urgent that we seek paths of unity, given the grave divisions among Christians in the world, and particularly in Africa. A commitment to unity among Christians will help the Church in Africa to be salt and light for its continent, a sign of hope for the peoples.
Let us, together with the pope, thank the religious sisters, priests, laity, and missionaries “for their work to create dialogue and reconciliation among the various sectors of African society.”
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