'Exceptional Growth' in Africa

When in doubt, just turn to the poor of the world for confirmation in the mission of being Catholic. It happens time and time again, and this time it's with Africa. According to ZENIT, next October's synod will focus on the Church in Africa, discussing it's "exceptional growth" in recent years, and will consider the future of the local church in the coming years. "The idea for this synod arose during the last years of Pope John Paul II's pontificate... The Polish Pontiff had already welcomed the idea in 2004. In 2005, Benedict XVI announced his plan to convoke the assembly, which will be a continuation of the first Africa synod, held in 1994." (Full article here.)

So what kind of things are so "exception," you may be wondering. Well, here are a few statistics about Catholicism in Africa: since 1994, there has been an overall growth in number of bishops by 18%, and in number of diocesan priests by 58%. Also, realizing that a hundred years ago Africa had only 2 million Catholics, it is startling to consider that today, a mere century later, the continent is home to over 150 million (17% of it's total population).

[Archbishop Eterovic] affirmed that the Catholic communities [in Africa] are active and committed: "Religious practice has a high rate, especially regarding participation in Mass on Sundays and holy days. In some countries, the rate of religious practice is around 80%."

This explains, he said, "the high number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. […] In sum, Africa is not a mission land in the passive sense, but rather it sends missionaries, both for the continent itself and for the whole world."

This much is clear for almost anyone who lives in a US diocese nowadays, since in recent years African priests and nuns have come to the rescue in places with shrinking presbyterates and religious presence. In Rome—as I recall—a substantial portion of almost all my classes was made up of African seminarians, priests and religious, sent to study in Europe for mission or domestic work after receiving their degrees.

But in light of all the progress, Africa still maintains an atmosphere of overwhelming uncertainty and political unrest. The purpose of the upcoming synod, in part, is to discuss the Church's presence on the continent with particular regard for the heightened inter-tribal tensions in recent years, as well as the growing number of African Muslims who are currently making up a significant portion of the land's population. "'Reconciliation is a priority need in Africa, in which progress is not lacking, but neither are problems,' the [Eterovic] affirmed. 'Without the true peace in Christ, there cannot be any cultural or social development. The Church should be a prophetic voice that invites to reconciliation, justice and peace.'"