While it will be weeks before a new pope is chosen, Catholic missionaries say they hope the successor to John Paul the Second will do much to help the church grow in Africa. The Society of African Missions praised the work of the John Paul II and his recognition of the importance of the continent.
Father Brendan Darcy, a Catholic missionary who spent many years in Liberia, is the local superior at the Society of African Missionary headquarters in the eastern US city of Tenafly, New Jersey. Father Darcy spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the scope of Catholic missionary work in Africa.
He says, “I think you can see the scope by the fruits you are seeing now. For years, missionaries had been going to Africa. They’ve covered just about every country in Africa…There was a great breakthrough from Paul the Sixth. That would have been his visit to Uganda. So, that would have been the first papal visit to Uganda and the first papal visit to Africa.” Fr. Darcy says Pope Paul the Sixth issued a document on Africa, which “set every missionary on fire again.”
He says, “you know, we had been going ahead, but the leadership seemed to be somewhere behind. So, Paul the Sixth really made the breakthrough...Then it really went on fire again with this present man now, whom we are mourning, John Paul the Second.”
Asked how a pope “fires up” missionaries, Fr. Darcy replies, “By visiting the territory the missionary works in. When you consider now that missionaries have been there for years and years and Rome seems so far away and maybe sometimes so out of touch with that other church. Well, this has changed.”
One reason was that in 1994, Pope John Paul convened a synod on Africa at the Vatican, after a push by African theologians. The late pontiff had made eight trips to Africa. Fr. Darcy says that led to more students in seminaries in Africa and more women becoming nuns.
But how is the African Catholic Church viewed elsewhere in the world? Fr. Darcy says, “I don’t think they’ve taken stock of it. I don’t think they see anything but its bigness, you know. Its vastness and the speed with which it is growing. The church in Africa, of course, will take on its own African dimension. It will take on its Africa expression in liturgy and in faith. I think the challenge for the bishops in the church in Africa is overwhelming. They are up against a lot of upheavals and corruption in governments and whatnot and for the most part they have been very brave and put their lives on the line. And this again has inspired a lot of the people and the rest of the church maybe is impressed by that.”