A year ago, Father Joseph Hart, vicar general, and I traveled to 11 dioceses in the African nations of Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. We went both as a response to a call from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be alert to and in solidarity with the needs of the people there, as well as to thank in person the bishops who have sent our diocese so many wonderful priests over the years.
As I have written in this column before, we experienced a profound joy with the deeply spirited community of believers we found in every place we visited. We were touched by the wonderful liturgies and the African people’s absolute sense of gratitude to God — even as we witnessed seemingly insurmountable obstacles of indescribable poverty, widespread illness and hunger these good people face every day. We were overcome with admiration not only with their faith, but also their perseverance, determination and confidence in the future.
Moreover, Father Hart and I returned with the overwhelming sense that the people of our own diocese might respond with their usual energy and goodwill if we asked them to do more to help our African sisters and brothers in Christ, to be in solidarity with them, and learn more about their cultures and their hopes and dreams for their children.
Now, one year later, I thought it might be informative for you to know we have in the works a number of new diocesan initiatives, which we pray will bring additional help alongside the efforts individual parishes have had under way for some time.
Our Africa Awareness Committee, formed to help give energy and ideas to this work, has identified four areas in which we all can strive toward our goal of becoming more aware of the issues affecting our fellow Christians in Africa and sending needed assistance. The four areas are:
* Sharing our gifts to provide immediate help to assuage dire needs. These include the desperate need for mosquito netting in the Diocese of Uyo in Nigeria; health care and HIV/AIDS nutrition for several thousand affected orphans in the Diocese of Obuasi, Ghana; providing assistance to educate and house young female students in the Diocese of Nairobi, Kenya; and providing financial accounting tools to the Diocese of Tanga, Tanzania. Other needs are still being assessed.
* Partner With Catholic Relief Services through such ongoing projects as Operation Rice Bowl; learning about buying Fair Trade products from Africa; and becoming involved in promoting government legislation that reduces poverty in Africa and fosters peace.
* Celebrate with the African community. In this regard, we have a very special African Celebration Mass planned in the beautiful and moving African traditions on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 21. I will preside at the 11:30 a.m. Mass at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. The cathedral narthex will have educational materials on Africa, a Fair Trade display table and displays about work being done by parishes in our diocese. A reception will follow. All are welcome. This will be a good opportunity to learn more and — if you are able and willing — to help our efforts. You can also get involved in your own parish’s ministries to help Africa or ask your parish leaders if you might generate interest in starting one. Perhaps, too, your parish could invite an African priest to share his culture and knowledge about his homeland.
* Learn more about Africa and the issues affecting it through your own study and through informational packets being developed by the diocese.
As I have said in this space before, the church in many parts of Africa is flourishing — young and vibrant and full of wonderful promise. It is in an important position, as well, key to the church’s ongoing relationship and dialogue with the religion of Islam.
As Christians, we are called to be one with the people there, to walk with them as we can, to help them emerge from the horrendous tragedies of the recent past: genocide, apartheid, oppressive political regimes, the AIDS pandemic, famine and terrible poverty. Despite these issues, Africa, as we have so many times seen in the priests who have blessed our diocese, offers so much to us through its rich cultures and unflappable faith.
Please join us as we join them in a new journey of hope.
Peace to all.
Additional information about Solidarity with Africa and diocesan efforts is available by contacting Sister Janet Korn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-328-3228, ext. 1287; or Kathy Dubel at email@example.com or 607-734-9784.