The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has invited all dioceses in the country to help support the rapidly growing Catholic population in Africa by contributing to a Pastoral Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa.

The U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Church in Africa oversees the annual appeal that supports pastoral outreach, catechetical programs, Catholic schools, evangelization, education of seminarians, and the continuing education of clergy in all 55 African countries.

The appeal has grown dramatically since its inception in 2005, when 57 dioceses contributed $822,000. In response to the 2006 appeal, 97 dioceses gave $1,727,000, an increase of 110 percent in total contributions and a 70 percent increase in the number of dioceses participating. The Diocese of Orange, Calif. contributed $237,603, the highest total of any diocese. Despite struggling to rebuild churches and schools devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the Diocese of Biloxi, Miss. gave $14, 449.

In the past 25 years, the number of Catholics in Africa has increased from 55 million to 144 million, and the number of priests has increased by 73 percent. While Africa is the fastest growing part of the universal Catholic Church, it faces extreme poverty. Over 70 percent of Africans live on less than $2 per day, a level of poverty that cripples the ability of churches to raise sufficient funds for many pastoral needs.

“The vibrant church in Africa today, so rich in spiritual wealth, has enormous material need that calls us as sisters and brothers in the universal church to respond generously with solidarity and love,” said Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Church in Africa. “This appeal has become an integral part of helping the flourishing Catholic community in Africa reach its enormous potential.”

The committee has provided bishops with several options for dioceses to contribute to the appeal. These include taking up a collection in all parishes on a specific date; inviting parishes to make a voluntary collection; making contributions from diocesan funds; adding the Church in Africa as an item in the annual bishops’ diocesan appeal; holding a fundraiser event or soliciting funds from major donors. Dioceses have also been asked to appoint a diocesan coordinator who will help oversee the appeal.