Family life, ‘bonding together’ behind spread of Christianity in Africa, U.S. bishop says

Bishop John Patrick Dolan Bishop John Patrick Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix visited the African nations of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya in August 2023 for a tour of projects connected to the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. | Credit: ACI Africa

The rapid spread of Christianity in Africa is due to its people’s inherent structures of community life as well as the “bonding together” of community members, according to Bishop John Patrick Dolan of Phoenix.

Dolan, who returned from a 12-day trip to the African countries of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya on Aug. 22, weighed in on the ease of the spread of Christianity among Africans, noting that faith “naturally happens” where there are existing structures of communion.

“Faith begins where there are strong families and communities bonding together and they are not living behind their phones. In such a setting, faith naturally happens and grows. I think in the United States we have lost a lot of that,” Dolan told ACI Africa, CNA’s partner news agency in Africa, in an interview.

The bishop, who serves on the subcommittee for the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that in the U.S., “people have become very individualistic.”

“In some ways, we have lost our faith,” he said. “The numbers show it … It gives me hope when I see Africa and parts of Central America or Latin America and South Korea where people are naturally gathered responding to faith together as a community. It gives me a challenge to go back to the United States and build that community first of all, because I don’t know if faith can be built one person at a time. It has to be built in a communal sense.”

Fritz Zuger, a consultant for the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, accompanied Dolan for a tour of projects the USCCB is supporting through partnerships with various conferences of Catholic bishops in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, three member countries of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa. He attributed the rapid spread of Christianity in Africa to a natural religiosity among the people of God on the continent. 

“They knew communion even before Christianity came and they have maintained this relationship,” Fritz said in reference to Africans in an interview with ACI Africa on Aug. 20 in Nairobi.

African people, he said, are very close to nature, where they also get their livelihood.

“Christianity is spreading very fast in Africa because the people are drawn to it by their inherent religiosity. They already have structures that make them open to God,” Zuger said. 

He added that the Church in Africa is not young in terms of when Christianity came. 

“Here in Africa, the Church is young because the people are young,” he explained. “The average age in the three countries we visited is extremely low. It is like 25. The Church is full of young people. It is rare to see grandmothers. This is the best resource a Church could have.”

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

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