Christians exercise an influence all out of proportion to their numerical strength in Africa
Fr. JOSEPH ADENEYE, Ph.D. To appreciate the missionary progress achieved in West Africa it is necessary to recall that it is hardly a century since the light of Christianity dawned on the vast territories then practically screened off from the advantages of Western civilisation and the modern amenities.
The tentative efforts made by sonic Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century left no trace behind worth mentioning. And the abominable trade in human beings which subsequently devastated the coast was no edifying example of Christianity, either.
It was to meet the spiritual needs 01 the repatriated slaves that volunteers from America and members of the Missionary Society of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came to Sierre Leone. Towards the latter part of the 19th century, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, founded in Lyons to Mgr. Marion de Bresillac, carried the Faith further down as fat as the Bight of Benin. Thus, in a short time. these missionaries, by superhuman endurance and indomitable force of will, raised up the standard of the Cross among peoples who, hitherto. had worshipped almost everything created by God except God Himself. Only among the West African Mohammedans has the light of Christianity failed to penetrate. The once pagan tribes of Nigeria and the Gold Coast are steadily embracing the Gospel and rejecting their numerous gods and goddesses for the true God, as soon as He is clearly explained to them as their Creator. Benefactor, Redeemer and Father. Year after year, the number ol pagans is dwindling. Baptisms are administered at times in hundreds. Divisions of ecclesiastical territories arc fast being made, new parishes are multiplying. The existence of innumerable elementary and secondary schools and training colleges, which seem to mushroom almost daily, as well as hospitals, maternity homes and other means of social welfare, are practical evidences of and lasting testimony to the missionaries' work to
improve the social, cultural and economic lot of the people,
Sinceritx IT is amazing how easily and wholeheartedly the people have assimilated Christian ideas and adopted religious practices, most of which are contrary to their agelong traditions and customs. Whatever the cynics may say who believe there is nothing hut a veneer of Christianity, there are concrete facts which prove beyond doubt that the West African converts to Catholicism are no less sincere than any European race both when it was won over to Christianity and even now after it has adopted the true religion for centuries.
In spite of most uncongenial rural surroundings and in face of stupendous religious obstacles, a considerable percentage of the West African Catholics live up to their Faith and its moral precepts such as monogamy and frequentation of the sacraments. The Native clergy, though few, are proving themselves capable of bearing the moral and social responsibility of their priestly dignity.
THE struggle for self-govern ment within the Commonwealth is general, though with varying speed in each territory. The Gold Coast is foremost in this endeavour, and the process is complete. Nigeria, which is an artificial or conveniently political rather than a natural, historical or cultural unity, is undergoing an experimental constitution or a constitutional experiment—which, to say the least, is "sui generis." While one needs no prophetic vision to foretell that it is only a matter of time before the Gold Coast realises its objective, only a prophet could foresee what the future of Nigeria will be. Illiteracy is not due to any inaptitude or unwillingness to learn. It is obvious that the people are eager to learn. The pupils are more keen, regular and hard-working at school than most British school-children. and though only those children whose parents can afford to pay school fees and buy books and school uniforms can go to school, there are innumerable children who can find no accommodation in schools. The schools, up till now mostly run be voluntary agencies—missionaries in most districts—are wholly inadequate. If and when a free and compulsory system of education is introduced, there is no doubt that a full advantage will be taken of it. It is too soon to forecast what sort of education the people will provide when they do hold the reins of government. Rut one can hardly expect anything different from or better than a secular system, which is all they can learn from their "tutor" the British Government.
Here. however, the unfortunate missionaries will have a losing battle to fight. While they cannot in conscience vote for irreligious education. they will he unable to maintain adequate schools for Catholic children.
THOUGH, of course, the Catholics in each territory of British West Africa are in the minority. they exert an influence. socially and politicall■ • quite out of proportion to their numerical strength. Lay Catholics are well represented on every social and political level.
The Ministers, central and regional. include a number of Catholics.
Catholics being made aware ol their civic responsibility and trained to do their share in shaping the policy and working towards the welfare and development of the country. And in this endeavour the Catholic Social Guild and the Catholic Workers' College at Oxford, as well as the Young Christian Workers and the Catholic Action Girls' Organisation in London and other British Catholic lay movements, such as the Knights of St. Columba and the Legion of Mary, are contributing tremendous help— more or less directly—towards the training of an enlightened lay Catholic leadership in West Africa.
THE Holy See is watching the progress of the Church in West Africa with a constant motherly care. Through the foresight and recommendation of the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop David Mathew, Hierarchies were erected in Nigeria and the Gold Coast in 1950. Since then a number of vicarates and prefectures apostolic have been raised to dioceses, and new ones established.
To give an unmistakable proof of the unbounded trust which the present Holy Father has in the capability and leadership of the indigenous clergy in West Africa, he in 1952 appointed a Native diocesan Bishop in the Gold Coast, and in 1953 made a Nigerian an Auxiliary Bishop. There are signs of greater hopes for the Church in West Africa.
Many of the problems which beset missionaries in West Africa are wholly different whom, while many others are similar to, those which confront priests in Europe. The main difficulty is lack of means and personnel. Nigeria, for instance. which is over five times as big as Great Britain. is served by about 500 missionary priests and about 45 Nigerian priests. The missionaries arc faced with the task of breaking new ground and winning fresh converts to Christ while they must also sustain the faith of the faithful, who. baptised or under instruction. number about 1.000,000. If the number could rise by an arithmetical progression. the number of converts will swell tw a geometrical progrcssion
-IN many West African towns the
problem of checking leakage from the Faith and of steering the young people clear of the battalions of modern allurements are practically the same as those in European towns. And the socialeconomic problems which attach to Labour and Management which are a bug-bear to the working classes in Europe are becoming prominent. if not so acute. also in West Africa.
Hence, anybody charged with the responsibility of defining social and educational problems for West Africa cannot ignore all the various means in vogue in Europe calculated to counteract or check the inroads of unwholesome if not Communistic ideologies.
THE missionaries in West Africa -Iare mostly Irish. The lay British population consists mostly of nonCatholics. I often wonder if better progress would not be made if British Catholics took a greater interest in the Catholics of those countries depending on the British Commonwealth, just as the Belgians take a keen and practical interest in the Belgian Congo and Urua-Urundi.
As it is, the average English Catholic, priest or layman, cannot locate Nigeria on the map.
Now the missions are .open not only to priests, nuns or other religious but also to the laity. There is a wide field of missionary activity for lay missionaries or lay-auxiliariesteachers, nurses, doctors and others. And the Belgians are foremost in this capacity. Why not British Catholics?
It is hardly necessary to remind the readers of the importance of prayers for missions. "Pray ye to the Lord of harvest, that He send more labourers into His vineyard." An extra Hail Mary each night can do wonders in sustaining the courage and health of a lone missionary, or strengthen a West African boy or girl in a religious vocation. So don't miss a Hail Mary. And if you would like to give a tangible proof of your mLactical interest in the missions, if you would like to identify yourself, effectively as well as affectively, with the glorious work of making Christ better known and loved, you can devote whatever you can spare from your slender resources, or whatever you can do without, towards the missions.
A better investment you cannot make. for the interest is safe in the heavenly. Bank. A surer system of Pools you cannot invent because you always win.