Catholic Bishops in U.S. Focused on Strengthening African Families through Solidarity Fund

Bishop John Patrick Dolan of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix in the United States celebrates Mass at St Mary's Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Nairobi Kenya. Bishop Dolan serves on the subcommittee on Africa of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and was on a 12-day tour of projects supported by the US Bishops in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda Credit: ACI Africa

One of the areas that benefit significantly from the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), are programs focused on fostering unity in families and in Small Christian Communities (SCCs).

Fritz Zuger, a Consultant for USCCB’s Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, told ACI Africa that the unity seen in African families is the most important resource for the Catholic Church on the continent, and that Catholic Bishops in the U.S. are keen to support initiatives that will ensure that the family structure remains at the centre of African society.

“The human resource is the most important and the most essential resource you could have. People are the biggest wealth of a country and a society. Looking at what you could do with this resource, you could start by fostering the unity of the family; to support strong family structures, to support Small Christian Communities (SCC) and groups that can uplift each other,” Fritz said during the August 20 interview.

The U.S.-based member of the Focolare Movement added, “The Bishops in the U.S. are very keen to support any program that fosters the unity of the family so that this unity remains at the centre of society. People are more important than things.”

Accompanied by Bishop John Patrick Dolan of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix who serves on the USCCB Subcommittee for the Solidary Fund for the Church in Africa, Fritz spoke to ACI Africa towards the end of their 12-day tour of projects that the members of the USCCB are supporting through partnerships with Conferences of Catholic Bishops at national, regional, and continental levels.


Credit: ACI Africa

During their visit to Africa that ended on Monday, August 21, the two were in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, and held talks with Church leaders, assessing some of the projects that are being realized in partnership with USCCB members. 

The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa was established in 2007 to raise money through local Parish collections in order to support the people of God in Africa, where the Church is considered to be growing faster.

Credit: ACI Africa

From inception to date, the Fund focuses exclusively on pastoral needs, including catechetical programs, equipping Seminaries and Seminarians, and ongoing formation of members of the Clergy. It also focuses on communications and mass media and supporting Catholic education.

More in Africa

Fritz told ACI Africa during the August 20 interview that members of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences in Africa identify areas that need support and submit proposals to subcommittee of the USCCB’s Solidary Fund for the Church in Africa.

Bishop John Patrick Dolan of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix joins a dance by members of Pontifical Missionary Childhood at St Mary's Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Nairobi. Credit: ACI Africa

“I would call it a synodal process in which the Bishops sit together to discuss their needs,” the USCCB Consultant said, and explained that while individual Bishops submit needs that are specific to their Dioceses, Conferences may also have a list of needs that are specific to their country, region, or in the case of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), continent.

“When they sit together, they weigh the needs and come up with priority areas. We follow what the Bishops in different countries are asking from us,” the Swiss-born Focolare Movement member said, and added that members of the subcommittee of the USCCB’s Solidary Fund for the Church in Africa vote on the submitted project proposals for funding.

Credit: ACI Africa


Asked about the varying yearly needs of the Bishops’ Conferences against the availability of resources, Fritz said, “We give whatever we collect in Parishes in the United States. As long as we have money, we give. If it is finished, we have to wait for next year.”

Also speaking to ACI Africa on August 20, Bishop Dolan who was visiting Africa for the first time lauded Catholic Bishops in Africa for the collaboration with their peers in the U.S. in overseeing the realization of initiatives through the help of the Solidary Fund for the Church in Africa.

Credit: ACI Africa

He went on to urge the Catholic Church leaders in Africa to always exercise patience in the partnership, saying, “Not everything has to be done right away. Let's build with what we have and do things with what we have. I know that it sometimes requires additional funding to get things up and running.”

“As we continue to work towards building capacity, the goal is to walk away with the hope that the Church in Africa will be able to continue doing that. The challenge is not to expect things to be built right away. As they say, Rome wasn't built in a single day,” Bishop Dolan said.

(Story continues below)

Credit: ACI Africa

He told ACI Africa that his intention, after concluding his maiden trip to Africa, was to share the inspiring story of the continent with other Catholic Bishops in the U.S.

“Our goal is to go and tell the stories because people respond to stories in order for them to make their own contributions, not just financial, but also prayers,” the Catholic Bishop said, and added, “This is a hard reality because in the U.S., there are lots of collections. This particular one for Africa has to compete with other collections and so, we have to do a good job getting the message out very effectively.”

Credit: ACI Africa

The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa was started when a representative of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the humanitarian arm of USCCB, visited Eastern Africa where Bishops in the region asked him if it was possible for Catholic Bishops in the U.S. to help the fast-growing Church in the region under the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA)

“That time, the Catholic Church in Eastern Africa was growing by 1 million Catholics every year. The Bishops needed help to build the infrastructure in terms of formation of Priests and Catechists, as well us in putting up physical structures such as offices and Church buildings,” Fritz narrated to ACI Africa during the August 20 interview.

Credit: ACI Africa

The Arizona-based Focolare Movement member said that the request was brought to the attention of Catholic Bishops in the U.S., who decided to begin a subcommittee for Africa, organizing a voluntary collection in the country. 

USCCB members then invited AMECEA representatives to Kampala in Uganda where they were asked to discern the particular kind of help they wanted.

Credit: ACI Africa

“The guidelines that we use to date are (those) that the Bishops asked for during the meeting in Kampala. Even though the needs have been adjusted a bit, we try to remain faithful to what the Bishops’ Conferences asked from us,” Fritz said, adding that with time, the solidarity fund has extended to the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.

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.