EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Matthew H. Clark — accompanied by Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center — recently returned from a pastoral visit to several African dioceses. This is the second installment of Bishop Clark’s reflections on the experiences of that trip. Other installments are appearing in the Catholic Courier Weekly editions during December.
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From October 15 until November 5, Father Joseph Hart and I visited dioceses in Africa. The purpose of our trip was to express our thanks to the bishops of those dioceses who for the past 40 years have sent priests to our diocese to study and/or serve among us.
During our travels in Kenya, we visited Archbishop Raphael Ndingi of Nairobi, Bishop Peter Kairo in Nakukru, Bishop Martin Musonde Kivuva in Machakos and Bishop Emanuel Okombo in Kericho. We also visited the Diocese of Ngong, but were not able to see Bishop Cornelius Schilder, MHM, who was attending a month-long advanced course in the Maasai language. When we visited the Diocese of Murang’a, Bishop William Kamau was away on business.
In Tanzania our host was Bishop Anthony Banzi of the Diocese of Tanga. Our host in Ghana was Bishop Thomas Kwaku Mensah of the Diocese of Obuasi. When we traveled to Nigeria, we were received by Archbishop Joseph Ukpo of Calabar and Bishop-elect John Ayah of Ogoja. We also had visits with Bishop Valarian Okeke of the Diocese of Onitsha, Bishop Simon Akwaki Okafor of the Diocese of Awka and Bishop Joseph Ekuwem of the Diocese of Uyo.
These men are profoundly grateful for the relationships that have developed between their priests and all in our diocese. Although each expressed that gratitude in his own way, a common note was an appreciation for the warm way in which the lay faithful, religious and priests of our diocese have received their priests into their lives. The first desire of our African friends is that they have a significant experience of life in our local church. You have helped them to do that. You have been most important contributors to a process that will eventually enrich their own dioceses when these men return home.
Most certainly, our brother bishops are grateful for the material support offered to their priests by the colleges at which they matriculate, by so many of our parish communities and by individuals from many parts of our diocese.
Their concern is that these relationships be marked by a rich mutuality — all giving to the other what they have, all ready to receive the gifts of the other. Joe and I did everything we could to assure the bishops that we consider ourselves richly blessed by the presence and ministry of their priests. They do much to expand our understanding of church and, I think, call us by their presence to be aware that all of the blessings that we enjoy come from the Lord.
One of the strong realizations that began early and grew through the trip for both Joe and me is that all of us — we here and our friends in Africa — have been working for 40 years on something very important. It is fitting, it is right that we have direct and strong relationships with other local churches, especially with those that struggle with poverty.
This experience brought home to both of us in a strong way just how much these relationships have meant to participants on both sides of the ocean. The challenge is always how we can continue them in constructive, productive ways. And how much can we expand and/or deepen relationships with so many other local churches? We need to think and pray about those questions. And, we need to have conversations among ourselves, and with our African friends to determine how best to proceed.
In 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published “A Call to Solidarity with Africa.” I reread that document in Rome during the time I spent there on the way home from Africa.
The document presents a broad vision of our nation’s interest in, and obligations to, the world’s poorest continent. The hope we had in publishing the document was that it would help promote “a just and equitable development of Africa.” We identified the principal means of doing that as prayer, responsible investment, self-education and involvement in public advocacy, and diocesan and parish twining with dioceses and parishes in Africa.
There won’t be any quick and definitive answers as we move forward. But I do encourage all of our parish communities to think about this theme. Some have been active in this regard for years; some are beginning. We all need to engage the issue in a thoughtful and prayerful way.
Now, together as sisters and brothers in Christ, we begin a journey of joy as Advent begins. I pray it will be a blessed time, rich in awareness of Christ’s love, for all of you and your loved ones.
Peace to all.