Congo As In All China
From a Special Correspondent Less than 10 years after Stanley penetrated what is now the Belgian Congo, missionaries followed his steps. That was only some 60 years ago and now there are already as many Catholics in this country as there are in all of China, which, in 1300, already had an archbishop in Pek ing.
Now more than half China is under the rule of an atheistic political ideology, and the whole of it is threatened, the future of the Church in the Congo is of special interest. It was the " special missionary intention " for this month.
What is the present state of future prospects in the vast Congo mission field ?
The priests of the Belgian Congo have the burden of an everincreasing number of faithful. Fifty years ago every priest had the sesponsibility for about 100 baptised Catholics while to-day be has an average of about 1,700.
It would be misleading to come to conclusions merely on the basis of this average. The figures vary from mission to mission and it is precisely in the missions where progress is the more consoling that the burden is the heavier.
In ten of the 28 missions of the Belgian Congo the proportion of Christians per priest far surpasses 2,000 and in the mission of Urundi it reaches 4,400. To make a proper judgment one must also take into consideration the number of priests engaged in teaching, in work for the press, in administrative work; one must also keep in mind the aged who are no longer able to work.
THE RIVALS Granting that there should be a priest for every 1,000 Catholics one can see at once that the very success of the apostolate in the Belgian Congo has given rise to a serious problem of growth.
Can we sit down and wait ? Can we slow up our missionary efforts thinking that paganism will crumble of its own weight eventually and that the pagans will enter the Church ? The Catholic apostolate has rivals in the Belgian Congo— laicism and Protestantism.
At the side of the 3,300,000 Catholics in the Belgian Congo there are 600,000 Protestants. Even though the Protestant missionaries work in complete good faith and with inspiring self-sacrifice, it is nevertheless true—and they themselves cannot keep from seeing it— that they cause divisions in the country.
In the best of hypotheses the educated Negro who has his eyes open, who hears, who reads and travels cannot fail to note the scandal of a divided Christianity.
In his simplicity he ends up by thinking that the matter of religious differences can be reduced to a dispute between Whiles, Catholicism being the religion of the " little Belgians," while Protestantism is the religion of the powerful nations like England and the United States, which emerged victorious out of two world wars.
The division of Christianity tends to make the class that should be the elite of the country indifferent in religion. The Negro on seeing White industrialists or merchants— intelligent and rich men, men of authority and respected ostensibly not practising any religion, will discover that he, the African of the Congo, need not pass through Christianity to civilisation.
Church must have more in the Belgian Congo. But where shall she find them ? In the Congo itself 7 Actually there are 243 Congolese priests working side by side with 1,569 missionary priests in five seminaries; there are 372 students studying philosophy or theology in preparation for the priesthood. This abundance of vocations is really remarkable when one thinks that half the Catholics in the Belgian Congo are neophytes, Christians for less than ten years. If all of the major seminaries were to persevere up to ordination—a thing which is impossible—the ranks of the Congolese clergy would be increased, in ten years by 372, hardly enough to take care of the 850,000 catechumens ready to enter the Church.
MORE BELGIAN EFFORT The Belgian Congo records, annually, between 130,000 to 150,000 baptisms. Additional priests must be found in Belgium or elsewhere.
At present there are 1,569 missionary priests in the Belgian Congo, 1,246 of them are Belgians and 323 of other nationalities. The total missionary personnel—priests, Brothers and Sisters — comes to 3,954, of whom 3,190 are Belgians and 764 are of different nationalities. The figures are impressive.