CNS REPORT -- A U.S. bishop on his first visit to the continent of his ancestors said he found Africa to be full of life and great potential.
"There is youthfulness, energy and a zest for life here," said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley, during a recent visit to Ghana and Nigeria. "No one seems to sit still."
Bishop Holley traveled with a U.S. Catholic delegation led by Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla. Both serve on the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on the Church in Africa; Bishop Ricard is chairman.
The delegation met with church leaders in Ghana and Nigeria, discussing ways in which the U.S. and African churches can be better partners and share resources.
Bishop Holley celebrated a three-hour Mass Aug. 29 at St. Kizito Church in Nima, a suburb of Accra.
It was a typical Ghanaian service rich in traditional hymns, ethnic music, dancing and drumming. Every pew, chair and bench on the church floor and in its balcony was full. People stood outside, listening. Many women, men and children were dressed in fabrics imprinted with religious images and the name of the parish patron, St. Kizito.
Bishop Holley said he was awe-struck by the community, its joy and its sense of unity"We received welcoming, lively and bright smiles," he said. The faith of the Catholic parishioners is "strong and full of joy."
"I felt our voices being lifted up to heaven," he added.
St. Kizito has more than 9,000 parishioners, and its pastor, Father Raymond Osei-Tutu, said, "We are praying for more." About 1,000 children -- a mix of Christian and Muslim students -- attend the church-run school.
The parish has its challenges, said Father Osei-Tutu.
"Nima is a very poor area. It's not a place anyone would want to follow you to," he told Catholic News Service. "But when you're inside (the church), it's a very different feeling."
People are happy and parishioners respond to church activities, he said.
The parish runs a public washroom, because many homes in the community do not have proper facilities. Later this year, it will begin an adult reading program to help alleviate the high rate of illiteracy among adults there.
St. Kizito's role in Nima is similar to churches in communities all over the continent.
Many Catholic communities have benefitted from the nearly $5 million U.S. Catholics have given to the U.S. bishops' Pastoral Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. Since its establishment in 2006, the fund has supported seminarian and clergy formation, training for catechists, evangelization and communications efforts, leadership training and other pastoral programs on the world's poorest and most underdeveloped continent.
U.S. Catholics also help with contributions to Catholic Relief Services, which operates in 35 African nations, including Ghana. The U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency focuses on education, health, treatment to patients with HIV, peace initiatives, clean water and sanitation, food programs and emergency response for all people.
Even with its struggles, the greatest hope for the church in Ghana is its youth, said Accra Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle.
He said 60 percent of Catholics in the country are age 30 or younger.
"It is a massive force," he said.
"If we do invest well in them, build their capacity in social, political, economic and financial (ways) as well as in the church's social teachings and the Catholic faith, then there's no reason not to have greater hope," he said.
The growing church in Africa seeks more than financial assistance from its First World partners. The archbishop told the visiting delegation that he hopes for more exchanges between the U.S. and African churches.
He said he would welcome exchanges between youths, laypeople, clergy and others, especially in the areas of academics, business and government.