This article is third in a series of articles about the religious life and customs of African Catholics in the United States, and how the Church might better serve their pastoral needs. The article was submitted by Armindo Barbosa, MA and Rev. Arlindo Amaro, National Consultant for PCMR and pastor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Central Falls, Rhode Island.
Information about Cape Verde
Situation: The Archipelago of Cape Verde is situated off the coast of Africa in the North Atlantic Ocean, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, about 375 miles west of Senegal. The territory has ten islands and a few islets divided into two groups: Barlavento, with the Islands of Santo Antγo, S. Vicente, Santa Luzia, S. Nicolau, Sal, and Boavista; Sotavento, with the Islands of Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava.
Geography and Climate: Cape Verde has an area of 4,033 square miles. The majority of the islands are of volcanic origin. The mountain chains are very rough, sometimes with abrupt coastal lines. There is a relatively small seasonal variation of temperature in Cape Verde that comprises two main seasons: the dry season from October to July and the rainy season from August to October. During the rainy season, the majority of people work in the fields taking care of the agriculture. In the valleys, protected from the winds, there are some permanent cultivated areas with water provided from wells. The winds are constant, and the average temperature is 75 degrees (Fahrenheit). The islands have had a long history of droughts that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands. This constant struggle for survival has caused many Cape Verdeans to emigrate.
Colonization: The discovery date of Cape Verde is shrouded in mystery. There is early mention by North African sailors who frequented the island of Sal to collect salt from its shores. The official date of the discovery, however, is May 1, 1460 by Diogo Gomes and Antonio de Noli of Portugal. For over 500 years, until July 5, 1975, Cape Verde remained under Portuguese rule.
In 1462, the settlement of the Island of Santiago began. The island had some wonderful, small rivers that offered the best conditions for human settlement. The number of white men was low in the beginning. They were nobles, clergymen, handicraftsmen, soldiers, and exiles. Soon, the import of slaves from the West African Coast began. The population increased sharply despite the export of slaves to America, the drought and famine that periodically decimated a great number of slaves, and the high mortality rate of the people of European descent. At the end of the 19th century, the mestizoes were increasing in number and education, constituting a relatively powerful middle class. The number of Blacks sharply decreased.
People, Language, and Culture: In the Cape Verde Islands, Europeans and Africans began one of the most interesting miscegenation processes in the history of mankind. Two hundred years after the beginning of colonization, the percentage of mestizoes was significant, and they began weighing as an important force. Cape Verdeans can be divided into three ethnic groups: White descendants of European settlers, Black descendants of former slaves, and Mestizoes, the majority of the population. Cape Verde has a population of 400,000 within her frontier and approximately 400,000 outside of it.
Today, the population of Cape Verde can be divided into three categories: the Bourgeoisie, the Low Bourgeoisie, and all others. The Bourgeoisie constitute two percent of the population and include: landlords living in Cape Verde or Portugal, businessmen, owners of factories, physicians, lawyers, engineers, economists, high school teachers, and high government employees. The Low Bourgeoisie constitute four percent of the population and include: lower class employees, minifundia (small farm) landlords, and small businessmen. All others constitute ninety-four percent of the population which includes: tenant farmers, fishermen, agricultural workers, domestic employees, and the unemployed.
Only a small percentage of the population expresses itself regularly in the official language, Portuguese, which is used in schools, government agencies, trade, etc. Although Cape Verdeans understand Portuguese, Creole is the main means of communication.
Economy: Cape Verde is a poor country with an annual per capita income of less than 1,000 dollars. The agriculture is subject to constant droughts with catastrophic consequences for the crops and cattle, resulting in lack of food and water. More than 60% of the population receives subsistence from agriculture. A few existing industries are highly dependent upon foreign countries for raw materials and technology.
Emigration: In the United States alone, there are more than 300,000 Cape Verdeans and their descendants. Since the 1960's, many Cape Verdeans have emigrated largely due to more than two decades of permanent droughts that have dramatically affected the islands. Previously, in the second half of the 19th century, many Cape Verdeans immigrated to the United States to seek work in the whaling industry. They settled mainly in New Bedford, Massachusetts. With the decline of the whaling industry, Cape Verdeans went to work in agriculture and factories, settling in Massachusetts (New Bedford, Boston, Plymouth, Taunton, Brockton, Cape Cod), Rhode Island (Pawtucket, East Providence, Central Falls), Connecticut, New York, Florida, and California. The flow of immigrants has continued even since the islands won their independence in 1975.
Confronted with a new country of abundance, young immigrants often experience tremendous difficulty of adaptation. Their parents, generally uneducated, do not understand the challenges that their children face. Both parents often work, sometimes holding down two jobs, in order to obtain all the material things that they had never been able to afford. In Cape Verde, they used to live in small villages as an extended family where everyone is responsible for everyone's children. Unfortunately, they do not understand that this way of raising children does not work in developed countries such as the United States. Cape Verdean children go to school and mingle with other children where they acquire different habits. The children, particularly teenagers, begin to understand the difference between the two cultures and find their first culture much more restrictive which creates conflict in the home.
The Church: The majority of Cape Verdeans are Roman Catholics. Indeed, more than 95% say they are Catholic. In Cape Verde, the poor, who are the majority of the population, are dependent upon assistance from the Catholic Church. The church is an essential part of their daily lives. However, upon immigrating to the United States, a significant number do not attend church due to work schedules, distance from the church, lack of transportation, incapacity of the church to provide reliable transportation, lack of effective assistance in their problems, etc. There are very few priests, and some communities, though large, do not have a church of their own. They are completely dependent upon the schedule of the host parish which creates difficulties in scheduling activities. Many Cape Verdean communities lack basic necessities and cannot provide the parish children and young adults with a satisfactory Christian education.
In 1905, the first Cape Verdean Church in the United States, Our Lady of Assumption, was established in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts under the pastoral care of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts. Today this Congregation has two priests serving the community. A Portuguese deacon was recently assigned to the parish which continues to flourish. In 1979, Cardinal Medeiros invited the Capuchins of the Province of Turim, who had worked for several years in the Cape Verdean islands, to assist in the Diocese of Boston. Today there are two priests and five sisters working in the communities of Boston, Brockton and Scituate. On August 12, 1979, due to the effort of some Portuguese Spiritans (Holy Ghost Fathers), a new parish was officially established, in the Diocese of Providence, to serve the Cape Verdean immigrants of Rhode Island. Today the parish is served by a Portuguese priest who worked in Cape Verde for eighteen years and can communicate with the parishioners in both Portuguese and Creole.