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Unity for the Church in Africa

In The Pope Video for May 2019, the Holy Father prays that the Church in Africa, which has seen a relative growth of 23.2% from 2010 to 2016, may be a seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for the entire continent. He highlights its profound effort to reach the most remote locations but he is also aware of the great work that is needed.

As the African Bishops have already pointed out, and as is quoted in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”: “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 centres 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.’”

There is much hope to be seen recently in the continent that 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. 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).

Furthermore, Pope Francis wants to deal with the challenges of division among the people of Africa: “The ethnic, linguistic, and tribal divisions in Africa can be overcome, promoting unity in diversity.” He says in Evangelii Gaudium: “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 the faithful seek paths of unity, given the grave divisions among Christians in the world, and particularly in Africa. A commitment to unity of Christians will help the Church in Africa to be salt and light for its continent, a sign of hope for the peoples.

On his part, Fr Frédéric Fornos SJ, 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).” The Pope wishes for the Church to come together to thank the religious sisters, priests, laity, and missionaries “for their work to create dialogue and reconciliation among the various sectors of African society.”