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Vatican seeks priests from Africa to re-evangelise the West

Plans to ease the acute shortage of priests in western countries by importing African clergy are "being discussed by senior bishops with the Pope's blessing", according to a report in London's Daily Telegraph.

The initiative to "re-evangelise the West" was raised at a Vatican-backed conference of 100 Catholic bishops and archbishops from Europe and Africa earlier this month.

Fr Addison Okpeh, from Nigeria, at St George's Cathedral in the London Diocese of Southwark.

The bishops debated the idea of a large-scale exchange of clergy between the booming Church in Africa and its ailing European counterparts.

Under the plans, African priests from parts of the continent where vocations are thriving would send priests to parts of Europe in urgent need of more clergy.

In return, a far smaller number of priests from Europe would be sent to Africa to help with a shortage of pastoral experience and trained teachers in their theological colleges.

Bishop Tom Burns, who was representing the bishops of England and Wales at the conference, said the initiative could become "a kind of reverse missionary effect".

He warned, however, that the plans were at an early stage and would have to be handled sensitively, beginning with dioceses strengthening links with their African counterparts.

The Telegraph quotes Bishop Burns' warning that clergy from Africa would have to be carefully selected and prepared before being sent to British theological colleges or parishes because of the culture shock.

"It is something we would welcome for the right kind of people," he said. "But we have to be wary that dioceses don't just take anybody because they are short of priests and that the attractions of Western life do not confuse the issue.

"I don't think there are any real answers to the vocations crisis unless we are able to foster our own vocations and let our people feel that they have their own priests."

Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the President of the Council of Bishops' Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said: "I believe priests from places like Nigeria can re-evangelise Europe. Just 150 years ago, it was Europeans who were doing the evangelising. Now we should have the two Churches doing the work - Africa and Europe."

Vatican seeks priests from Africa to re-evangelise the West (London Telegraph 22/11/04)

Foreign-born priests filling growing void (Rapid City Journal 20/11/04)

23 Nov 2004