ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The presence in the United States of about 3,000 priests and religious from countries in Africa is a great contribution to the U.S., said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.
That fact “makes me a bit nervous because I hope we are not ‘stealing’ their personnel,” Cardinal Tobin, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, told Catholic News Service during the July 13-23 meeting of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, known by the acronym AMECEA.
AMECEA, which includes the bishops’ conferences of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Djibouti and Somalia, held its plenary assembly in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The theme of the meeting was “Vibrant Diversity, Equal Dignity, Peaceful Unity in God in the AMECEA Region.”
Cardinal Tobin (pictured at the top of the post), who represented the U.S. bishops at the meeting, said that in the study sessions, he was impressed at the bishops’ honesty about their local situations and at their concern for young people, despite the difficulties in translating that concern into action.
He hopes the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops will give greater direction to the church in the world, he said. The synod will meet at the Vatican to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”
“The incredible growth of the African church is a sign of hope for Americans,” the cardinal said.
The U.S. Catholic Church annually commits $2.5 million-$3 million to support the work of the church in Africa, he said.
“Generosity is really a gift that not only goes to the people you are helping … I think the relationship of solidarity with Africa is a good vaccination” against becoming totally insular, he said, noting that it shows “we are related to the Catholic Church in Africa and in the world.”
The growth of the African church and its perseverance in very difficult situations show its vibrancy, Cardinal Tobin said, adding that he never misses an opportunity to talk about “the vibrancy of the church in Africa with my people.”
The Subcommittee on the Church in Africa was set up as a way of reaching out to the church in Africa “with great respect,” he said. The committee’s intention “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.
“Such solidarity is very important … because there are growing voices in the United States that are pushing us toward nationalism” and “would have us ignore the rest of the world,” he said, noting that this is not a Christian message.