My opportunity to travel to Africa
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. MARGARET PARISH
As I write this article, I am actually preparing to leave in a few days for my first ever visit to the African continent. Even though I know that I will be leaving the parish for about ten days even though I just started over a month ago and even though this trip is also an added expense on me, it is an opportunity that I did not want to let pass by me. I will be taking part in the ordination of a young man from Uganda who was assigned to me as an intern while I was still at St. Thomas of Canterbury. It will truly be an exciting moment to witness the life of the Church in Africa.
As I anticipate the trip to Uganda with a stop as well in Kenya, I am reminded of the vibrant life of the Church in virtually every part of Africa. As I mentioned in last month’s article, Christianity in Europe has suffered a great decline. Churches all across Europe are no longer being filled with the native Europeans whose ancestors built those churches. The great cathedrals that are found all across Europe oftentimes are more “tourist spots” than the testaments of faith they once were. In all of the big cities of Europe, it is the immigrant population that are more and more keeping the Catholic parishes alive—especially the Overseas Filipino Workers as I witnessed in Greece.
It is a different reality in Africa. Among Catholic circles, it has oftentimes been said that the African nations that once were the territories that received missionaries from Europe and America are now the ones sending missionaries to Europe and America. The same has also been said for countries such as the Philippines and other Asian nations. The reason for this is simply because the life of the Church is alive and well in other parts of the world. In particular, the Catholic parishes in Africa oftentimes cannot sustain the number of worshipers gathering to them. Christianity is thriving even though resources are limited and poverty is strong in those parts of the world. Even in the countries where Christians are being persecuted, the faith of Christians is not weakened but actually strengthened for even greater witness.
Why the difference between the Church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America versus the Church in Europe and even in the U.S.? Secularism has become much stronger in Europe and even here in the U.S.A. In other words, the more secular a society becomes the less room there is for anything like faith or religion in people’s lives. Secularism is that idea that God is not really necessary or that God is only an afterthought. Instead, there is a greater dependency on either material things or even one’s own individual successes. More and more, people are giving themselves the credit for their successes rather than recognizing the grace of God who gave them the abilities that made it all possible.
Too often, in many instances, we hear people claim that they are “more spiritual than they are religious,” or they have abandoned all together everything that deals with faith. In short, churches will continue to remain empty unless there is a shift in mentality. For this reason, when God is seen as important in the lives of people, it is there that we see houses of worship packed and vibrant communities of faith exist.
In countries like Kenya and Uganda and in places where Christianity may be the minority, faith communities are still thriving because there is a healthy recognition of God’s grace in the events of daily life. This is perhaps what other parts of the world need to recapture. This is what Christians from other parts of the world can teach us.