PHOENIX — Bishop John P. Dolan will go on a 12-day trip to Africa this month to view projects and programs supported by American Catholics to strengthen their brethren on the continent, the fastest-growing area of the worldwide Catholic Church, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Dolan will travel to Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, Aug. 6-22, meeting with Church leaders and visiting projects supported by grants through the USCCB’s Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa.
Established in 2007, the fund is driven by local parish collections as well as donations.
Dolan is one of eight U.S. bishops sitting on the USCCB’s Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, which decides where to send the African funds. The panel reviews grant applications and makes decisions twice a year – in June and November. A staff led by three laypersons oversees fund administration. https://www.usccb.org/committees/church-africa
Installed as the fifth Diocese of Phoenix bishop Aug. 2, 2022, Dolan joined the USCCB subcommittee in April.
“The African bishops…spend much time in prayer and discernment about where aid from Catholics in the United States is most needed,” stated Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., the panel’s chairman, on its website.
“Parishioners who give to this collection can be certain that their support will help African Catholics who are in the greatest need, and who also have a great desire to serve Jesus,” Bishop Smith stated.
About 80 dioceses across the country take up an annual collection, according to Fritz Zuger, one of eight subcommittee consultants. A parishioner at St. Bernadette in Scottsdale, Zuger will travel with Bishop Dolan.
The Diocese of Phoenix conducts its Special Needs Collection for the Church in Africa as well as those in Latin America and Eastern Europe on the second Sunday in August.
This year’s collection will be Aug. 13.
Bishop Dolan said the diocese in 2023 is placing “special focus” on the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa.
In a letter to the Diocese’s 94 parishes in May, Dolan asked pastors to use the special collection “as a way to help educate the faithful about the beauty of the universal Church and its needs.”
“While we work lovingly to build our parish communities, we are always aware, and at times need to remind ourselves, that we are part of a universal Church that is not bound to one people or place. Our local church in fact is always in communion with the whole Church and the life of grace that flows through it,” Bishop Dolan wrote.
‘WEALTH OF CULTURAL VALUES’
The USCCB said the funding is critical.
“Africa faces economic and social hurdles of enormous debt, epidemic, severe poverty, and political unrest,” the subcommittee stated.
“In spite of these challenges, the Church in Africa has almost tripled in size in the past 30 years. However, it is difficult for (it) to sustain its growth and maintain essential pastoral outreach,” the statement continued.
The Solidarity Fund aids pastoral projects including outreach, schools, evangelization and education of clergy and lay ministers.
During the trip — his first-ever to Africa — Bishop Dolan will see projects benefiting from past funds, how current funds are being used and perhaps improve upon that use.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis got a firsthand look at some of Africa’s problems.
During a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in January and February, Francis lamented decades of foreign exploitation of Africa’s rich natural resources, including diamonds.
“This is a tragedy to which the economically more advanced world often closes its eyes, ears and mouth,” he said during Jan. 31 remarks in the Congo.
Francis is the latest pontiff to address the issue.
St. John Paul II, in his 1995 Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in Africa,” said, “Although Africa is very rich in natural resources, it remains economically poor. At the same time, it is endowed with a wealth of cultural values and priceless human qualities, which it can offer to the Churches and to humanity as a whole.”
FOCUS ON PASTORAL NEEDS
In many African countries, poverty, ecological disasters, government unrest, conflict and major population displacements can affect the Church.
The Solidarity Fund focuses exclusively on pastoral needs, including:
* pastoral and catechetical programs
* equipping seminaries and seminarians
* continuing education of clergy
* communications and mass media
* Catholic education and schools
The subcommittee approved grants totaling more than $2.6 million for 91 projects last year.
Two examples were:
* $25,200 to form 44 diocesan seminarians in Sudan and South Sudan; and
* $30,000 to train and form lay leaders in the Kasana-Luweero Diocese in Uganda.
St. John Paul II erected the diocese in November 1996.
Other development projects fall under the purview of the USCCB’s official relief and development agency, Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org). CRS funded work addresses areas such as agriculture, emergency response and recovery, and health.
Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia — the countries Bishop Dolan will visit – each has a sizable Christian population, according to various data sources.
The Special Broadcasting System (SBS) of Australia pegs the number at roughly two-thirds of the 126.5 million people living in Ethiopia. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom lists Uganda’s Catholic population at nearly 40-percent of its nearly 49 million people, while Kenya’s Catholic population is about 21-percent of the nearly 55 million people living there.
“Africa is growing by thousands of new Catholics a year,” Zuger said.
That growth is punctuated by “immense energy and enthusiasm among (the African Church’s) youth,” he noted.
Meanwhile in the U.S., many dioceses benefit from priests born in Africa.
Today, it is estimated there are over 3,000 African-born priests and religious serving in the U.S. in ministerial capacities.
“The African people are thankful, but we are still at the beginning. What we’re doing (for the African Church) is certainly good.”