Church Leaders in Africa Urged to Emulate Pope Francis’ Inclusivity Style to Save Numbers

Fr. Stan Chu Ilo. Credit: PACTPAN

In his 10 years of leadership of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has prioritized inclusivity, ensuring that all voices, including those of the marginalized, are heard. 

According to Fr. Stan Chu Ilo, a Research Professor in the Department of Catholic Studies at DePaul University  in the U.S., African Church leaders must adopt the Holy Father's culture of inclusivity to stop people from leaving the Church “in droves”, and going to places where they feel accepted.

In a Wednesday, March 8 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Stan describes Pope Francis’ leadership as “a style of inclusivity” where “the voices of the marginalized are heard”, and where the walls that separate “the Church of the beloved and the Church of the rebels” are broken. 

It is different from the Church in Africa, where, according to the widely published Theologian, leaders still insist on “clericalism” and “episcopalism”.

“I think the greatest message of Pope Francis is that we Bishops, Priests, all Church leaders, must become humble servants of God's people. Clericalism is driving so many people from our churches. This kind of episcopalism is creating social distance between the Clergy and the people. The ecclesial distance that we have today is creating a double Church, one part for the Bishops, and the Priests, and the other for the rest of the people,” Fr. Stan says. 


He adds, “Just as Pope Francis represents a new style of leadership, African church leaders must ask themselves: What style of leadership can we adopt, that meets the evangelical demands of this present time?”

Also importantly, the Nigerian Catholic Theologian says, Church leaders must ask themselves, “Is the style we adopt helping us advance the good news verbally, faithfully, authentically, and fruitfully? Or is it hampering it?”

“We should be challenged by the growth of Pentecostal Churches,” he says, and adds, “We should ask ourselves why all these people thronging Pentecostal Churches are leaving the Catholic Church in droves. It is not enough to say these people are being misled and are driven by superstitious beliefs and practices. We should reexamine our style of leadership to see if it will make people want to come to our church, remain in our church, and find within the church, the face of the poor man of Galilee.”

Fr. Stan who serves as the producer and co-host of African Catholic Voices, a podcast service of the Pan African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN), says that the Church in Africa must get involved in lifting the poor from the dungeons. 

This service to the poor, the member of the Clergy of the Catholic Diocese of Awgu in Nigeria says, should not just be an emergency response. 

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“We must ask ourselves why our people are so poor,” he says, and adds, “The problem is not that Africans are not hard-working. The problem is that the church in Africa has not found the right balance of creating the kind of healthy tension that should exist between the church and the state.”

According to Fr. stan, the Church in Africa lacks “a political Theology”.

“We don't have a best practice on social transformation,” he says, and explains that though the Catholic Church is involved in social justice initiatives, hardly tasks the government with its part in improving the living conditions of the people.

“We are required at the Church to become very directly involved in setting social policies, economic policies, and political policies; and forming the conscience of people so that everyone will be fully and wholly involved in determining governance in Africa,” he says.

Meanwhile, Fr. Stan has lauded Pope Francis’ centredness on communality in Christian living, noting that the Holy Father’s messages to Africa are in line with the African culture of Ubuntu and communal living.


Pope Francis does not provide any new solutions to the challenges that Africa is facing, Fr. Stan has said. He says that the Holy Father is, instead, helping the continent to see its vast resources, and to learn from what has worked for the people before.

“Pope Francis is not telling us that this is what you should or should not do. He is making us see that we have the assets to make Africa a better place. He is telling us to open our eyes and see the role models we have in Africa, and to find meaning in our roots,” Fr. Stan says. 

Pope Francis, Fr. Stan says, “reminds us to look at what has worked for our people in the past and get more of it. This is why he uses the word Ubuntu.”

The Nigerian Priest adds, “In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis talks about the culture of encounter when he says, ‘to be a person is to belong to a community’. That's the very language of Ubuntu. He insists on community and the need to strengthen relationships.”

Fr. Stan recalls that in Pope Francis’ recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, the Holy Father underlined the need to rebuild and strengthen relationships in order to have flourishing communities in the Church and in the wider society. 

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In Pope Francis’ trip to Madagascar, the Holy Father is said to have talked about ecological disasters, and the people’s relationship with the environment when he visited Kenya

In Kenya, he spoke about the ‘3Ls’: Labour, Lodging, and Land, Fr. Stan recalls the November 2015 Apostolic visit to the East African nation, and adds, “He interrogated how people can have a good relationship with the land and engage in agricultural activities so that they do not starve.”

“On lodging, he (Pope Francis) said that people should not be living in Kibera (Kenya’s largest slum). It is not worth it. About the youth whose population is on the rise, he asked what work the country had for them,” the U.S.-based Theologian says, and adds, “His message was about restoring relationships with the land, with the earth, and with the people.” 

Fr. Stan finds it regrettable that the Church in Africa has, for a long time, shied away from talking about the continent’s problem of ethnocentrism and tribalism.

“When we go to Synodal meetings, we speak big English, but we are not dealing with the root of the greatest threat to the church and Christianity in Africa. We do not yet see ourselves as firstborn children of the same family of God. we see ourselves through our stereotypes and our prejudices,” Fr. Stan says.

“These prejudices and stereotypes are very settled in many countries. It is what you see when you look at what is happening in Tunisia, the xenophobia in South Africa, what is going on in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, in Somalia, Nigeria, in the whole Sahel region,” he further says.

Fr. Stan continues, “Even when you go to places like Liberia and Sierra Leone, there is tension between the African slaves who came back.”

He underlines the need to build a Church where people feel that they are brothers and sisters.

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.