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Amid explosive Church growth, African bishops meet

CWN - July 28, 2010

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) began its fifteenth plenary assembly in Accra on July 27. The theme of the assembly-- the first since last October's synod of bishops for Africa-- is “SECAM at 40: Self-Reliance and the Way Forward for the Church in Africa.”

“The sad problem of Africa is that it abounds with many resources and yet is seen as the poorest continent with women and children seen as the most vulnerable in society,” said Archbishop Léon Kalenga Badikebele, the Congo-born apostolic nuncio to Ghana.

Ghana’s vice president, John Dramani Mahama, called upon the Church to work with governments to combat injustice. “In the past few years, Africa has witnessed the emergence of vibrant media, deregulation of the communication system and the rise of so many radio stations, but we still need good leadership to enable us acquire better and quality life in our society,” he told the 250 bishops and others in attendance.

“The Church in Africa is growing very fast,” Accra Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle told Vatican Radio. “It needs to be able to welcome this growth accepts the challenges thereof form our lay men and women so they can take up their places as salt of the earth light of the world, form our young men and women who may want to enter into the priesthood and religious life so they can offer their service to the Church here and elsewhere in the world. Form our Catholic elite in our Catholic universities to be able to take up their roles in the socio-political spheres of society. These are the challenges that we are very happy to take up!”

The explosive growth of the Church in Africa began over a century ago and has accelerated in the past three decades. In 1900, there were 2 million Catholics in Africa; today, there are over 165 million-- triple the 1978 figure of 55 million. 14% of Catholics worldwide now live there, nearly half of the children in Catholic elementary schools study there, and 43% of the world’s adult baptisms-- over a million a year-- take place there. There are more Catholic hospitals in Africa than there are in North and Central America combined.

Between 1998 and 2007, the number of priests increased from 26,026 to 34,658, while the number of women religious grew by over 10,000, from 51,304 to 61,886. Over 14 million African children attend Catholic elementary schools, while another 3.7 million attend Catholic high schools. Since 1978, the number of African seminarians has more than quadrupled from 5,636 to 24,034, and Africa is now the world’s second most vocation-rich continent, bested only by Asia.

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