Most Catholic Priests in Sierra Leone are Sons of Muslims: Bishop

There are now more than 100 priests in the four dioceses of Sierra Leone.

Bishop Natale Paganelli, 66, arrived as a Xaverian missionary in 2005 in Sierra Leone. In an interview with the Catholic magazine Omnes posted April 25, he noted that the majority of Catholic priests in that African country are sons of Muslims.

“Most priests are sons of Muslims. Why? Because of the schools,” explained the prelate of Italian origin, who also spent 22 years in Mexico and who was apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Makeni in Sierra Leone from 2012–2023.

“When the Xaverians arrived they used a very interesting strategy. Since there were almost no schools in the country’s north, they began to establish them, first primary schools, then secondary schools. Evangelization came through the schools,” he continued.

Regarding Muslims who study in Catholic schools, Paganelli explained that “the majority of them, attending our schools, which have a lot of prestige, thanks be to God, come into contact with Christianity, with priests, and at a certain point they ask for baptism and take a catechumenal course at the same school. Generally, there is no opposition from parents.”

In fact, he noted, “we say that there is very good religious tolerance in Sierra Leone. This is one of the most beautiful things that we can export to the world, not only diamonds, gold, other minerals.”


The “only serious problem” he has had, the prelate explained, has been with the Muslim tribal chiefs, “because they wanted Catholic schools in each village, but I could not build a Catholic school in each village, it was impossible; there were already 400, a very large number.”

One of the priests who is the son of Muslims is the current bishop of Makeni, Bob John Hassan Koroma, who took over the diocese that was administered by Paganelli until May 2023.

The Italian prelate said there are now more than 100 priests in the four dioceses of Sierra Leone. “The number of priests is growing but religious vocations, especially women’s vocations, are a little less because that’s more complicated, because in their culture women are not highly regarded, so it’s more difficult for them to think about consecrated life.”

Paganelli also explained that at Easter Muslims, like Catholics, also ask their houses to be blessed; and just as Muslims share Christmas dinner with Christians, they also invite those who believe in Christ to share food on the last day of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and purification.

In general, the bishop said, “there is a good relationship” between Muslims and Christians. “The majority of marriages in our diocese are mixed, between Catholics and Muslims. They say that love solves many problems and creates a lot of unity, and it’s true,” the prelate concluded.

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This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.