As Pope Benedict XVI makes his first visit to Africa, the charity Aid to the Church in Need has highlighted both its own work and the growth of Catholicism on the continent, calling the Church Africa’s “best hope” for peace.
According to a press release from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity’s project support has grown more in Africa than in most other continents, especially over the past three years, as the charity responds to a “vocations boom” and increasing numbers of Catholics.
The charity says its work is concentrating on Christian education as well as religious and human formation for clergy and laity. ACN believes these efforts are crucial in the quest to break Africa’s “cycle of violence.”
“The Church in Africa – with growing numbers of priests and a more committed laity – is undoubtedly the best hope for a continent that for some people represents nothing but injustice, bloodshed and despair,” said Regina Lynch, ACN projects director.
According to recent audited figures, the charity has paid out about $574,000 for projects in Angola and about $715,000 for projects in Cameroon. Its overall expenditures in Africa total more than $18.1 million.
Calling support for vocations “crucial,” Lynch explained that ACN has increased its commitment to help both seminarians and religious Sisters.
“For ACN it is not only a question of quantity but of quality and we are working with religious superiors in vocations discernment and formation,” she said.
She also underlined the group’s work with laity in promoting Christian family values, AIDS prevention and other pro-life initiatives.
“ACN’s increasing work in Africa is a response to the amount of life and energy in the Church – its struggle to rebuild respect for human dignity, develop paths towards reconciliation and give young people a chance for a better life,” she reported.
The inculcation of Christian values such as love and forgiveness is critical, she said, noting that ACN’s Child Bible has now been distributed across 46 African countries in 64 different languages.
Reconciliation initiatives are also key to the charity’s work. One example the group cites is its support for the Marian shrine in Kibeho, Rwanda, which is seen as helping the country to heal the wounds of its civil conflict.
ACN has also sponsored projects such as Save the Savable schools for children in Khartoum, Sudan which with other projects assists those parts of Africa affected by the spread of Islam.
“Sadly, fundamentalism is reaching deep into the continent and in some countries the future of Christianity is on a knife-edge,” Lynch said. “Violence, poverty and extremism in regions such as eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe and Sudan have fundamentally assaulted the dignity of the human person – their values, their sense of right and wrong, their sense of community and their trust in God. If these scars are to heal, the Church needs our support.”