The African Community
in St. Ignatius Church
According to the Vatican’s Central Office for Church statistics, there are some 1.285 billion Catholics in the world. Though more than 40% of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, Africa has the fastest growing Catholic community in the world in recent years. The number of Catholics in Africa rose from 59 million in 1980 to 222 million in 2015, translating into one in every five inhabitants, with a corresponding rise (20%) in the number of Priests in the last five years- a sharp contrast to the situation in Europe. Hence, Catholicism in Africa has been touted as the future of the Catholic Church.
This striking growth has been linked primarily to Africa’s vibrant demographics, where most countries are experiencing tremendous population growth. Population alone however, does not fully account for the Continent’s growth in Catholicism. Factors such as Africa having a great potential for missionary work (conversions) and the prestige that comes with being a Priest of the Church have been mentioned among others. African countries with the greatest proportion of Catholics are Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola, and the Seychelles. DRC has the biggest population of baptized Catholics (43.2 million) in Africa and ranks 10th in the world.
Here at St. Ignatius Church in Yotsuya, there is a very dynamic African community made up of over 100 people from about 16 African countries including Angola, Benin, Cameroun, DRC, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, with Nigeria leading the pack. This number fluctuates as a good number of Africans in St. Ignatius are students on long term stay (two or four years for their Master or doctoral degrees, respectively) or short term (some weeks to several months for conferences, exchange programs and training) visits. The rest include people (including old students) working and having family with African or Japanese spouses. A very minute percentage of Africans attending Mass at St. Ignatius are seminarians.
Some 20 out of the total number of Africans form the core of the African community and attend Mass almost every week and serve the Church in various capacities like Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, Readers, and leaders of the Youth Ministry. The group also leads in the organization of the annual African International Mass, which is part of a series of Masses led by groups from different regions of the world.
A typical Mass in Africa is characterized by families and communities coming to Church together, a longer homily, wearing of one’s best clothes, singing, drumming and dancing etc. In the St. Ignatius version of the African Mass, we try to simulate this by wearing African clothes, having the second reading and intercessory prayers in an African language and singing at least one African song. With this we are trying to bring Africa’s spirt of joyful celebration, of family and communal prayer to Japanese and others who practice such things less. We are also in turn learning many good things like time management etc. from the Japanese and the other groups.
Hence, if you are an African or sympathizer of the continent and looking for some Catholic spiritual connection in Japan, visit us at St. Ignatius Church.
By Ishmael Dzigbordi Aziati