By Sr. Grace Candiru, MSMMC
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin has said the Catholic Church in the United States annually commits between US$ 2.5 and 3million to support the work of the Church in Africa. The American Prelate revealed this during an interview at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa where he represented the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a regional conference of Catholic bishops of Eastern Africa.This is the second time the US Cardinal is attending the Regional conference, the first being in Malawi in 2014. Cardinal Tobin who was attending the regional conference of Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) chairs the USCCB Sub-Committee “the Church in Africa.” The Subcommittee comprises nine bishops and different consultants who meet twice a year to do several things.
The Church in Africa
He explained that when the American Bishops set up the solidarity fund some ten years ago, they wrote a pastoral letter calling for greater solidarity with the Church in Africa. Thus, they created a subcommittee as a way of reaching out to the African Church “with great respect.” The Newark Cardinal explained that funding to support the Church in Africa in the past had been done on a voluntary basis. It was however in 2017 that USCCB decided to make this subcommittee prominent and this according to him meant that the committee could now invite all dioceses to contribute. “We often prepare materials submitted to us from different African dioceses to give people an idea about the need for their contribution to the solidarity fund,” he said of their fundraising efforts. “The original inspiration of the committee was to help this growing and energetic Church to prepare its pastoral agents – to build the capacity of their personnel, and at the same time strengthen the national conferences of bishops in Africa,” Cardinal Tobin recalled. He explained that the committee often looks at the ways the American Church can be in solidarity with the Church in Africa.
He said in each meeting, each of the bishops on the committee presents between five to ten projects to the committee for review. “We also like to visit different diocese so that it is not simply some anonymous funding but, bishops talking with bishops,” he emphasized, adding that the bishops on the committee along with staff at the Conference make two to three visits to different parts of Africa to acquaint themselves with dioceses and projects funded from solidarity fund.
Criteria for funding
The Newark prelate explained that one criterion for the committee used for funding was to ensure that they do not duplicate what other funding agencies are already doing. “We know that the bishops could not get funding for preparation of lay ministers and capacity building needs in their chanceries and other special programs like peacemaking and child protection, among others and that is where funds are often committed,” he emphasized.
Another criteria used is to invite any bishop to write a proposal but that it has to pass through the Episcopal conference so that it’s not just a one on one relationship. The bishops can then talk among one another and decide what the priorities are and that in a way strengthens the Episcopal conference.
Additionally, Cardinal Tobin said they have also been able to connect American Universities that have special services to offer with the Church in Africa. He cited a case in which AMECEA needed to do some assessments in dioceses from all the nine countries some years back and the University of Notre Dame in the US was able to offer its services. The Cardinal further explained that the solidarity fund is collected from the dioceses which participate in the national collections. “Over the years, the solidarity fund has been growing and we will continue to be energetic in helping it grow,” he said.
Solidarity good for American people
“Such solidarity is very important for the Americans right now because there are growing voices in the United States that are pushing us towards nationalism, something that would have us ignore the rest of the world,” he went on. He warned that President Donald Trump’s policy called “America First” was appealing to the fears and anxiety of the Americans, and that “he is doing it in a frightening way.” But while this policy may work for a political party, he warned that it was not a good Christian message, “because it cannot be America first.”
On his experience about the study sessions of the Plenary Assembly, Cardinal Tobin said he was impressed by the growing honesty of the bishops, vis-a-avis the actual situation on ground. He said he was equally impressed by the concern for young people but that like in many parts of the world, it was difficult to translate that concern into concrete proposals. He however expressed optimism that the Synod of the Youth slated for October, 2018, would give greater direction to the Church in the world.
About the contribution of Africa to the Church in America, he said the presence of Africans in the American Church was already a great contribution to America. He noted that about 3,000 priests and religious leaders from Africa currently work in the United States. “That of course makes me a bit nervous because I hope we are not ‘stealing’ their personnel,” he said. “The incredible growth of the African Church is a sign of hope for Americans,” adding that, Americans often become very insular and don’t realize there is a world behind their borders. He said Americans tend to judge the Catholic Church around the world with what happens in the US and yet American Catholics only make six percent of the Catholic population in the world. “In fact I never miss the occasion of talking about the vibrancy of the Church in Africa with my people,” he said, adding that the growth of the Church in Africa and its perseverance in very difficult situations was itself a great example.
And on the generosity of the American people he had this to say: “Generosity is really a gift that not only goes to the people you are helping. And as Pope Francis says: ‘The Church that looks in on itself all the time is sick. So, I think the relationship of solidarity with Africa is a good vaccination that we are not going to become totally insular – that we are related to the Catholic Church in Africa and in the world.” (1089)
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