Three Prelates in Africa Advancing Religious Tolerance Join Rome’s Interreligious Council

Dieudonne Cardinal Nzapalainga (left), Bishop Denis Isizoh (Center), and Archbishop Paul Desfarges (right) appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID).
Credit: Public Domain

Three African Prelates known for promoting religious tolerance in their respective countries are set to join the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) as members after Pope Francis appointed them to the Vatican-based dicastery of the Roman Curia.

The three were appointed Wednesday, July 9 alongside 19 others.

They include Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga who is the Local Ordinary of Bangui Archdiocese in the Central African Republic (CAR), Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers Archdiocese in Algeria and the Auxiliary Bishop of Nigeria’s Onitsha Diocese, Bishop Denis Chidi Isizoh.

In a message sent to ACI Africa Thursday, July 9 following news of the Papal appointments, Cardinal Nzapalainga says he considers his appointment to PCID “as the call of a poor person invited to join the table of the Lord.”

The appointment, he says, has given him a feeling of “humility and gratitude.”

“Every call comes from God and he passes through his Church to communicate it,” the Archbishop of Bangui says, adding that “many of us hear this call from God as religious, where we listen, welcome and dialogue with respect for others.”

A member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), Cardinal Nzapalainga attracted international attention when Pope Francis appointed him a Cardinal in November 2016. At the age of 49 at the time, he was the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.

Weeks after his appointment to the College of Cardinals, the Archbishop of Bangui visited Rome’s Mosque in a gesture intended to promote interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

The 53-year-old Prelate, who has been at the helm of the Archdiocese of Bangui since July 2012, has been described as “one of the saints of Bangui” for his efforts to put an end to the Muslim and Christian violent conflict in CAR, Ozarrksfirst.com reported

In 2015, Cardinal Nzapalainga alongside Imam Oumar Kobine Layama and Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou received an international award for their role in preventing sectarian war in their country.

Another African Prelate joining PCID that was initially established as the Secretariat for Non-Christians by Pope Paul VI on the Pentecost Sunday 1964 is 76-year-old Archbishop Paul Desfarges of the Archdiocese of Algiers.  

A member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Archbishop Desfarges serves in the predominantly Muslim nation of Algeria and has been at the helm of the Regional Episcopal Conference of North Africa (CERNA) since 2015.

The French native has been ministering in Africa since 1976 when he was commissioned to the Algerian town of Constantine.

In 2018, Archbishop Desfarges led other members of CERNA to propose that interreligious dialogue be used as a way of promoting equity in the Maghreb countries, CISA reported

“Developments in our societies in North Africa are increasingly debating the recognition of religious pluralism and freedom of conscience,” the members of CERNA were quoted as saying.

The other African Prelate joining PCID, Bishop Denis Chidi Isizoh who is the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Onitsha in Nigeria since May 2015.

The 64-year-old Nigerian Prelate was an official of the Vatican-based PCID from from 1995 till his episcopal appointment in 2015. During the 20-year tenure, he served at the Vatican City Head of Service, Section for non-Christian Religions in sub-Saharan Africa and for Traditional Religions Worldwide.

 The member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Onitsha Diocese also served as Vice President, Nostra Aetate Foundation – Study Grants from 2007 to 2015.

At the Workshop on Interreligious Dialogue organized by Nigerian Conference of Women Religious (NCWR) in Kaduna, Nigeria in September 2008, he presented a paper on the “Principles of Interreligious Dialogue: The teaching of the Catholic Church.”

The three African Prelates join PCID, the dicastery of the Roman Curia currently headed by Miguel Ángel Cardinal Guixot and charged with the responsibility of promoting mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and followers of other religious traditions, in the spirit of the declaration Nostra Aetate


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]