WASHINGTON (November 9, 2004) — The U.S. bishops will be asked to approve an unusual proposal for aiding the Church in Africa during their annual Washington meeting, November 15-18, at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.
If approved, an Ad Hoc Committee for the Church in Africa, drawn from several offices within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as well as other church agencies, would collect and distribute voluntary contributions according to clear criteria; use the experience of the Conference, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to advise and monitor this effort; and explore the best ways to continue this response.
"The Church in Africa is the fastest growing part of the Universal Church and the poorest part of our family of faith," the proposal states. "Spiritually rich but desperately poor, the Church in Africa needs more sustained, well-coordinated and effective help to meet current needs, address critical problems and realize its enormous potential not only in Africa, but within the Universal Church."
The proposal for the creation and management of a "Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa" is a joint project of the USCCB Committees on International Policy, Migration, African American Catholics, and Catholic Relief Services, in partnership with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States.
"This ongoing effort carries forward the message of our statement, A Call to Solidarity with Africa, overwhelmingly adopted by the body of bishops in 2001 and warmly received throughout Africa," the proposal says. "It also reflects the themes of Ecclesia in Africa. It seeks to respond constructively to the moving and eloquent appeals of our brother bishops in Africa, to the most urgent pastoral needs, the hopes of the Holy See, and the experience of the national office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and those of missionaries and CRS workers in Africa. It is also a response to the requests of U.S. bishops and others who have been to Africa and have witnessed the Church's growth and vitality as well as its poverty and desperation."
According to the proposal, efforts to assist the Church in Africa would build on existing initiatives, but more sustained, more focused on the greatest pastoral needs, and more coordinated and collaborative.
The body of bishops discussed the importance of a greater response to the needs of the Church in Africa last November. A consultation was conducted in early 2004 among 43 dioceses to assess the level of interest in, and support for, such an initiative. More than two-thirds of dioceses that responded to the questionnaire were prepared to contribute to a fund. In addition, discussions were held with the director of the national office of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith to explore possibilities for effective coordination of resources.
The Ad Hoc Committee would be responsible for distributing funds—raised through voluntary diocesan collections, gifts, and other means—for projects of the Church in Africa which reflect the priorities of Ecclesia in Africa, attend to the areas of greatest need, and provide the Church in Africa with opportunities to effectively plan and provide clear systems of accountability.
"The Catholic Church in the United States has responded to the overwhelming needs of the Church in many parts of the world, as demonstrated in its support for the Church in Latin America and Eastern Europe," the proposal states. "This proposal seeks to provide a serious, sustained response that will meet genuine needs, strengthen the capacity of the Church in Africa, and provide for effective and transparent accountability. Despite the many challenges confronting the Church in the United States, the call to solidarity with Africa can no longer be postponed."
Media covering the meeting may pick up their credentials at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 14.