"A Scandal to Keep African Priests in Europe," Says Nuncio

Creates Enormous Problems for Third World, He Contends

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ROME, JUNE 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- A nuncio has an urgent message for native African priests who work abroad: Come home, your country needs you.

«It is a scandal to keep African priests in Europe, when we have a vital need in the mission territories to nourish the churches that are growing,» said Archbishop Alberto Bottari De Castello, referring to the numerous cases of African and Asian priests who work in the West.

The phenomenon of Third World priests staying in First World countries is addressed in a new document of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The «Instruction on the Sending Abroad and Sojourn of Diocesan Priests from Mission Territories» was published Tuesday.

Archbishop Bottari said that whoever does not encourage priests to return to their native country is unaware of the critical reality of Christianity in Africa and Asia.

He had been rector of the seminary of Cameroon for 12 years, and nuncio in Guinea for the past three. His area of responsibility includes Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In the latter four African countries, Catholics constitute between 1% and 2% of the population, and the number of ordinations is very small. This year, two priests were ordained in Guinea — and that is considered a lot in the region.

«However, when I was rector in Cameroon, we often had difficulties as those underlined in Cardinal Jozef Tomko´s document,» the nuncio told the Italian newspaper Avvenire. «I remember that one priest, sent to Rome to further his studies, did everything possible to delay his return. Yet another, who is still in Europe, has asked his bishop several times to prolong his stay far from Africa.»

The fault is not just that of the young priests, he said, but also of the host country. Some European parishes are only too happy to incorporate them in their pastoral work, he noted.

«These dioceses do not realize that, to resolve a small problem of theirs, they create an enormous one for us,» Archbishop Bottari said. «In Africa, but also in other regions of the Third World, one priest is an irreplaceable asset. We cannot do without a single one.»

«They alone are prepared to understand the African mentality in depth, and to work in the midst of cults and beliefs that for us Europeans are difficult to decipher,» Archbishop Bottari explained.

The archbishop also appealed to pontifical universities and other Catholic academic institutions to give the youth of mission territories a specific formation. «Perhaps we should set aside intellectualism and focus on essential formation,» he suggested.

He said he believes that the solution lies in «opening a Catholic university in Guinea, of which we have been talking for some time. It would also serve for Senegal, the Ivory Coast and other countries of the region. Let´s hope we won´t have to wait too long.»

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