Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy offers a Just Gospel reflection on Pope Francis’ monthly intention for the people of Africa.
This month Pope Francis encourages us to pray: that the Church in Africa, through the commitment of its members, may be the seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for this continent.
Have you recently heard or taken part in a conversation that bemoans the state of the Church? Have you heard concerns about the empty pews, the inactive parish organizations, the poor attendance at faith formation classes, etc.? Though these are oft heard complaints in much of the Western World, the Church is flourishing in Africa. This is the focus of our prayer intention as suggested by Pope Francis: That the church in Africa, through the commitment of its members, may be the seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for this continent.
At times people joke about our Western dearth of knowledge regarding geography and they quip, “Africa is not a country.” Sometimes we are guilty of such ignorance regarding the world beyond our experience. Pope Francis calls us to pray for the unity of all the many and varied countries of Africa. As the Church thrives, we can imagine that unity brought about by a strong faith would be no small gift to the global village.
What is the state of the Church in Africa? A recent article done by Voice of America, tells us: The cavernous interior of South Africa’s largest Catholic Church can accommodate up to 7,000 people—and many Sundays, it makes good on that space. The crowd is a mix—from sleeping babies and excited teenagers to tired mothers and beatific, smiling grandmothers. Since 1980, the Church has grown a whopping 238 percent, according to a study released this year. This study says Africa is now home to 198 million Catholics—up from 58 million in 1980.
The Reverend Reginald Anthony, who leads South Africa’s largest Catholic church, said the appeal of the Catholic church is how well it meshes with Africans’ deep spiritual beliefs and faith in outside forces. “So evangelization through the Gospel has simply deepened that, in many cases. There’s also the other side, that people are not as materialistic and secularized as the Western world and so that means the dependence on God for sustenance, for existence, for meaning is still very much at the heart of people in Africa.”
Lydia Mashaba, a parish council member, said the church’s popularity in Africa is actually based on something that happened decades ago with the Vatican II conference, which, among other things, decreed that services could be given in local languages, and now that the Church has opened its windows, we are drum-beating, we are in Africa, it’s a free-spirit Church,” she said.
During his last visit to the continent of Africa, Pope Francis told the gathered faithful to foster unity by avoiding “the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession”. He visited a mosque and shared holy thoughts of peace and brotherhood.
The Holy Father also writes of unity and community in Gaudete et Exsultate. A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan. Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer “that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.”
This is surely a path to holiness for the entire Church of Africa, it is a way of sanctity for the Church of America, or any part of the world, but it is most especially an avenue for each of us as Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity to make progress towards a holy unity grounded in our one love, Jesus!