Concern as Some Catholic Clergy, Religious in Eastern Africa Not Aware of Laudato Si’

Mr. Herbert Makinda, the lead researcher in the AMECEA study that sought to find out the levels of awareness of Laudato Si' in the region. Credit: ACI Africa

While a majority of Clergy and Religious in the region of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) are aware of Pope Francis’s Encyclical letter Laudato Si’, some having fully internalized it, and actively implementing it, a good number of Clergy and women and men Religious in the region have said they are not aware that the seven-year-old document exists.

In a report that was presented on Wednesday, July 13 to AMECEA delegates meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania for their 20th Plenary Assembly, it was observed that a significant percentage of Clergy and Religious from the nine countries of AMECEA have not heard of, or interacted with the Encyclical Letter that was published in May 2015.

“The report gives us the picture that there are some, among the Clergy and Religious, who are not aware of Laudato Si’,” Herbert Makinda who led a team of researchers drawn from the Caritas and Justice and Peace departments of the national Conferences of AMECEA reported.

Participants in the study included the Clergy and Religious, national and Diocesan Justice and Peace Coordinators (JPC), Small Christian Communities (SCC) members as well as the youth in AMECEA countries. 

The nine AMECEA countries include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Djibouti and Somalia, which are AMECEA affiliate countries, were also involved in the study.


According to the report, 5 percent of Clergy in the AMECEA countries have no awareness of Pope Francis’s encyclical.

At 25 percent, however, the study found out that SCC members were the least aware of Laudato Si’. The youth also showed significant lack of awareness at 12 percent. Some 5 percent of JPC coordinators who participated in the study also revealed that they had no awareness of the document that speaks about the need to care for the environment.

The report found that 94.7 percent of Clergy and Religious were aware of Laudato Si’, followed by JPC coordinators at 94.6 percent and the youth at 87 percent. SCCs came in last at 75 percent awareness.

At least two Dioceses from all Metropolitan Sees in the 11 countries were sampled for the study that was conducted at the height of COVID-19. Researchers went ahead to select between three and five Parishes from each Diocese that was selected for the study. It is from these Parishes that participants belonging to SCCs were selected.

The study sought to find out ways in which the Laudato Si’ had been implemented in the AMECEA region, how the implementation of Laudato Si’ had contributed to human integral development, and what factors promoted or hindered the implementation of this Encyclical Letter “on care for our common home”.

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Participants in the study were also asked to assess their own awareness of the document and to also assess other groups. Youth, for instance, would be asked to assess their knowledge of Laudato Si’ and to assess the awareness among the Clergy and Religious, SCCs, and JPCs.

Asked about how they rate themselves and others on the knowledge and awareness of Laudato Si’, 15 percent of Clergy and Religious in the AMECEA region said that they have quite a lot of knowledge of the document. 

Another 31 percent indicated that they have quite a bit of knowledge of Laudato Si’, while 42 percent said they have moderate understanding of the document. Some 5 percent of Clergy and Religious in the region said that they have very little knowledge of Laudato Si’. A similar percentage indicated that they had zero knowledge of the document.

In the report, the Clergy and Religious said that only 5 percent of parishioners were quite knowledgeable about Laudato Si’ while 52 percent of the parishioners only had moderate knowledge of the May 2015 document.

On their part, 43 percent of JPC coordinators who assessed themselves said that they had moderate knowledge of Laudato Si’ while 2 percent of participants said that they had no knowledge at all of the document. In assessing others, they said that 43 percent of staff at the justice and peace departments had very little knowledge of Laudato Si’. They said that only 2 percent of the staff were quite knowledgeable about the document.


Highlighting the weakness of self-assessment and assessing others in the study, Mr. Makinda said, “There are people who know too much but are so humble they’d say they don’t know much. Others who know very little would claim to know too much. But the study findings are pointing towards a picture that there are low levels of awareness.”

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the 20th AMECEA Plenary Assembly, Mr. Makinda expressed concern that though Laudato Si’ had existed for seven years, there were people who were not aware of it. He said, “This means that dissemination has not been done to the letter.”

He further expressed concern that those who were responsible for its dissemination were the ones who admitted to not being ware that it existed.

“The most interesting finding is that some of the people that are expected to know about the document and to disseminate it to the people are the ones that are indicating that they are not aware of it,” he said, and added, “This was a quantitative study with boxes to tick indicating awareness. And some people ticked that they are not aware of it, meaning that they have never heard of it.”

He said a question such as ‘Do you know Laudato Si’ attracted the response ‘No’, noting that some respondents thought the term “Laudato Si’” was a form of greeting.

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“The percentage may look small but it is worrying when it is the pastoral agents that are expected to be the ones relaying it downwards,” the Kenyan delegate to the AMECEA Plenary that has brought together over 100 Catholic Bishops from the countries of AMECEA told ACI Africa.

He said that JPC officials’ understanding of Laudato Si’ ought to have been examined at recruitment to equip them with knowledge that they would in turn disseminate to the people.

Mr. Makinda blamed what he referred to as a poor reading culture among Africans for the lack of awareness of the Laudato Si’ among some Catholics in the MECEA region.

“It has been said that if you want to hide something, hide it in the book. Africans are highly oral. They’d rather listen to stories than read,” he said.

He added that AMECEA is a large region, noting that some places in the region are “very remote, some without internet connection to access documents.”

The official noted that Laudato’ Si’ had been accepted widely, with non-Catholics joining its implementation in the region.

“Laudato Si’ is the second Encyclical in the history of the Church that is talking about social issues that have been addressed to the whole world. Laudato Si’ is therefore not only a document addressed to the Catholics. It is addressed to the whole humanity,” Mr. Makinda said.

He said that many people across the world have picked the Laudato Si’ document up, adding, “Laudato Si’ movements in schools bring together young people regardless of their religion.”

To increase awareness of the Encyclical Letter, the researcher suggested that engagement with the document takes the format of the Synod on Synodality that is implemented from the grassroots.

“We are recommending that Laudato Si’ be treated the same way the Synod on Synodality has been treated,” he said.

Mr. Makinda explained, “Engagement should be taken to the grassroots. SCCs would be engaged. We found this in the Archdiocese of Nairobi where at least every small Christian community has two JPC commissioners who champion for Laudato Si’ in the small Church groups.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.