Chad: A Young But Vital Church

The Catholic Church is one of the youngest in Africa. This year, Comboni Missionaries mark 40th their presence in the country.

The Church in Chad has a much shorter history than any other in Africa. It was only in 1928 that the first Catholic priest, Fr. René Calloc’h of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans) set foot in today’s Sarh, which was then named Fort Archambault. The first mission was established one year later in Kou, near Moundou, by Fr. Gabriel Herriau, together with two Central African catechists: in fact, southern Chad was then part of the Oubangui-Chari apostolic prefecture.

Despite the fact that the first ten Chadians had been baptized in 1930, it was not before 1946 that widespread evangelization took place on a systematic basis in the entire territory. The congregations and religious orders involved at that time were the Jesuits, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) and the Capuchins.

Nowadays, Catholics make up just 18% of the total population, while Protestants – mainly belonging to Evangelical denominations – are 16% and followers of traditional beliefs 8%. Islam, with 58%, is by far the most practiced religion and local Muslims mainly belong to the moderate Sufi Tijaniyah tradition. The consequences for Catholics of such a diverse landscape of beliefs have been underlined by Pope Francis, when he spoke to the bishops of the country during their ‘ad limina’ visit to the Vatican, on 2 October 2014.

“The Church in Chad, notwithstanding her growth and vitality, is clearly in the minority amid a population with a Muslim majority and which is still partly attached to its traditional forms of worship”, the Holy Father said at the time. “I encourage you to see that the Church, which is respected and listened to, totally retain her rightful place in the society of Chad in which she has become a structural component even where she is a minority”.

In such a situation, the pope reminded the local prelates that interreligious dialogue is both a necessity and a duty for Christians. After remembering the late Archbishop Mathias N’Gartéri Mayadi of N’Djamena, “who strove so hard to promote the coexistence of the different religious communities”, Francis encouraged the Episcopal Conference to continue with “similar initiatives”, in order to “discourage the development of the violence which victimises Christians in some of your neighbouring countries”.

The aftermath of the Boko Haram attacks in the capital in June and July 2015 has shown how seriously this exhortation has been taken by the Church. On the same day when the last attack was carried out, a group comprising both Christian and Muslim youth was holding a seminar organized by the Al-Mouna Centre, one of the several structures devoted to interfaith dialogue: when the news of the attack came, the some 400 people present decided to continue their meeting.

Extremism has not managed to stop the efforts for peaceful coexistence. On the contrary, it has given them more strength. In addition to public prayers and official meetings and celebrations, Christians and Muslims are encouraging conflict management at a grassroots level, creating groups of ‘neighbourhood mediators’, particularly in N’Djamena. The relationships with the government, despite the bad record on human rights and disputes such as the one on oil revenues, are also usually good. The state is officially defined as secular, but in the past, the authorities have even provided funding for the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in N’Djamena.

Social work and evangelisation, both commended by Pope Francis in his speech to the Bishops, proceed at the same pace, both in the urban and the rural areas. The Holy Father also emphasised the role of lay catechists, by saying, “the catechist must be properly trained not only intellectually – which is absolutely crucial – but also humanly and spiritually, in order that, as Christ’s true witness, his or her teaching may actually bear fruit”. The Pope’s proposal was that every diocese had a training centre for catechists, and, in the longer term, of the laity. So, the Bishops have been encouraged to “update the catechetical methods” by including in them some elements of the previous traditions which do not contrast with the Cristian faith.

The year 2017 marks forty years of presence of the Comboni missionaries in Chad. It was on 15th August 1977 that three young Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Claudio Gasbarro, Fr. José Delgado and Fr. Miguel Ángel Sebastian were introduced to the Christian community of Moïssala, in southern Chad. It will become the first Comboni mission.

The presence of the Comboni Missionaries in Chad began with the expulsion of the missionaries from Sudan in 1964. A group of these followed the Sudanese refugees who fled to the Central African Republic and from there the missionaries moved to Chad at the request of the bishops who sought a Comboni presence in that poor country, considered an area of first evangelisation.

After forty years, Comboni missionaries continue their activities to create and to promote small Christian communities. They are working in the formation of leaders, pastoral agents and others, that they may become protagonists of the Good News and be the instrument of the kingdom of God in the society.

To promote the knowledge of lslam and African Traditional Religion (RTA) for respectful dialogue in view of building a fraternal society open to the diversification were justice and peace and integrity of creation are present.

Across the years, seven young men from Chad have became Comboni missionaries, three young women entered the Institute of the Comboni Missionary Sisters and there is already a small group of Lay Comboni Missionaries. Today in the country, Comboni Missionaries are present in five dioceses, with nine communities.

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