Bishop Zinkula on building up the Church in Africa


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Strengthening the capacity of African church leaders to meet the pastoral needs of their people in­spires Bish­op Thomas Zinkula in his work on the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa.

The subcommittee convened virtually June 14, two days prior to the start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring assembly, to discuss funding of projects that church leaders in Africa submitted and other matters. The subcommittee’s eight members each reviewed around nine proposals prior to their meeting. The types of projects considered fall into one of these categories: leadership training, youth and education, evangelization, communications, and justice and peace.

Among the proposals Bishop Zinkula reviewed was one to refurbish a public area adjacent to the cathedral church in a diocese southeast of Burkina Faso. The space serves as a pastoral gathering place for Catholics in that diocese. A synopsis of the proposal stated that the approximately 185,000 Catholics in the diocese make up 42 percent of the local population. “Thus, by the standards of a predominantly Muslim country (over 60%), it is an important place for the Church,” the proposal states.


A joint initiative, the project calls for a civil engineer to provide technical guidance and oversight to the local population, which would provide much of the labor. The Episcopal Conference of Burkina-Niger requested $49,400 for cleanup and refurbishment of the property. Total cost is $83,700, with a local contribution of $34,300.

Bishop Zinkula described the project as a “novel, creative idea. People are used to gathering there. It’s like the Court of the Gentiles in the outermost court, a place to evangelize.” The subcommittee approved a recommendation to provide $30,000 for the project.

The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, taken up as a collection in a number of U.S. dioceses, including the Diocese of Davenport, provides crucial support for the projects. While dioceses that participate in the collection have contributed generously, collection revenues were down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 restrictions that prevented regular, in-person attendance at Mass, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., the subcommittee’s chair, reported.

Efforts are underway to raise awareness and increase diocesan engagement with the fund so “the grant program can eventually expand to address more of the urgent pastoral needs of our brothers and sisters in Africa.”

The subcommittee considered 117 grant requests in 2020 for projects totaling just under $3.1 million and approved 88 grants totaling just over $2.2 million, according to Cardinal Tobin’s report.

He said that was a slight decrease from the previous year because of reduced availability of grant funds due to the pandemic. At the June 2021 meeting, the subcommittee considered 71 grants requesting a total of just under $2.1 million. The subcommittee awarded 56 pastoral projects totaling more than $1.36 million. The maximum amount of a Solidarity Fund grant is $50,000 and the average grant is around $24,000, Bishop Zinkula said.

In a June 28 news release, Cardinal Tobin provided examples of the 56 grants awarded that “reflect a breadth of pastoral and capacity building needs.” Among the projects:

• Popularizing and imp­le­menting Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, in Zambia.

• Training pastoral co­u­n­selors to support those traumatized by the impact of the COVID pandemic in Zimbabwe.

• Promoting evangelization in local languages in Togo.

• Organizing interfaith support for the pastoral care of refugees in Uganda.

• Creating a men’s ministry modeled on the example of St. Joseph in Malawi.

• Reinforcing the local church’s capacities for protecting minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse across all the dioceses in Burundi.

• Building the skills of catechists in Cameroon to address the psycho­social needs of internally displaced persons who have fled their homes to escape violence.

Bishop Zinkula noted that the subcommittee approved a new policy last November that requires all grant applicants to include information on safeguarding measures developed in country to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. The grant award to the church in Burundi specifically addresses that concern with a view to protect minors and vulnerable adults in keeping with Pope Francis’ 2019 “moto proprio” on sexual abuse.

“The young and growing Church in Africa is filled with an energetic spirit of discipleship. By addressing the urgent pastoral needs and strengthening the capacity of the Church in Africa, these projects help build on and channel that energy and show countless people the love and mercy of Jesus through the Catholic Church,” Cardinal Tobin said.

For information about the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa and its impact across the continent, go to (

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