U.S. Catholic Bishop Lauds African Regional Bishops’ Association as “very unique program”

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

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix in the U.S. has lauded the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), describing it as a “very unique program” that is steering  growth in various Dioceses in the African region.

Speaking to ACI Africa during his just concluded 12-day tour of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, three member countries of AMECEA, Bishop John Patrick Dolan who serves on the subcommittee for Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said that the African regional Bishops’ association that is made up of nine countries and two affiliate members mirrors what happens at the Vatican.

“I think AMECEA is a very unique program for Bishops’ conferences here in Eastern Africa. We don't have anything like it in the United States,” Bishop Dolan said during the Sunday, August 20 interview with ACI Africa in Nairobi.

Bishop Dolan who spoke to ACI Africa at St Mary’s Mukuru Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese said that AMECEA is unique in the way in which it tries to work with its various national member Bishops’ Conferences.

“AMECEA tries to focus on similarities in these countries, celebrate best practices and share those best practices so that other Episcopal conferences can grow as well,” the Bishop of Phoenix in Arizona said in reference to the nine countries of the regional Bishops’ Association.


The nine countries include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Catholic Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan are in a single Conference. Djibouti and Somalia are AMECEA affiliate members.

According to the leadership of regional Catholic entity that was established in 1960 and headquartered in Nairobi, “The authority over all AMECEA’s activities rests with the Plenary Assembly of all the Bishops of the AMECEA countries. Between the Plenary Assemblies, the Executive Board takes the necessary decisions, according to the AMECEA priorities. The day-to-day decisions are taken on behalf of the Chairman by the Secretary General who also coordinates the AMECEA departments and institutions.” 

In the August 20 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Dolan said that what AMECEA does “mirrors what is happening in Rome with all the congregations,” and explained, “Each congregation takes what it can get from Rome and gives what they have to Rome for the growth of the Church. I find it very unique and refreshing; a good system that works really well.”

He went on to give the example of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the three AMECEA member countries he visited during his 12-day maiden trip to Africa, taking note of their diversity.

“Conferences in the countries I visited are vastly different. Some Conferences have the sense that the Bishops really do weigh in while in others you get the sense that the Bishops are so busy in their own Dioceses that they don't weigh in as effectively and sometimes the Secretariat just tends to lead the programming,” he said.

More in Africa

The American Bishop underscored the need for the coming together of Catholic Church leaders in synergy even as much as each one focuses on growing his Episcopal See.

Reflecting on his impressions during the 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, Bishop Dolan said that his biggest take-away was African people’s high sense of communion with each other.

My first experience was in Ethiopia where I quickly discovered a sense of pride partly because Ethiopia is a country of origin of humankind. The Church also started there,” he said.

He noted that even though the Catholic Church in Ethiopia is very small (just about 1 percent of the total population), it serves a large population of people, and not just Catholics alone, and in different ways.

“In Uganda, I was amazed to see so many people living in Kampala. 10 million of Uganda’s 40 million people live in this city and it is extremely congested. I saw a different kind of poverty and Kampala’s traffic itself was the sign of that poverty. There was no traffic control, but somehow, I saw their system working and it was okay,” Bishop Dolan shared.


He lauded the expanse of the Catholic Church in Uganda through provision of spiritual support services including retreats.

In Kenya’s Murang’a Diocese, Bishop Dolan spent some time at St. John Paul II Sabbatical Centre, and described it as a good program for members of the Clergy, and women and men Religious who might be struggling with their vocations after working for many years and suffering burnout.

At St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese on August 20, Bishop Dolan saw the vibrancy of Catholics who attend Mass in large numbers despite the challenges of slum life.

Fr. George Njoroge, the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Mukuru, attested to the challenges of the slum Parish that has been under his care for two years now.

Fr. Njoroge told ACI Africa, “The settlement that our Parish serves is not permanent. The mobility is very high. People move when they lose their jobs, when they can no longer afford their rented houses, and also when the houses are demolished.”

(Story continues below)

The Kenyan-born member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Spiritans/Holy Ghost Fathers/CSSp.) recalled the October 2021 demolitions of house structures and utilities in Mukuru Kwa Njenga that left a section of the Catholic Parish church destroyed, and that resulted in the “disappearance” of some eight Small Christian Communities (SCCs).

With a population of over 4, 000 people, the community of St. Mary’s Parish is vast and is served by two Spiritan Priests, who get help from Priests outside the Parish to preside over 18 Masses every Sunday.

In the August 20 interview at the Kenyan Parish, Fr. Njoroge lauded the richness in faith of the faithful of St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish who come from different places of the country, bringing with them diverse cultures.

Bishop Dolan who presided over Holy Mass at St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish on August 20 told ACI Africa that his intention, after concluding his maiden trip to Africa, was to share the inspiring story of the continent with other Bishops in the U.S., who he said are keen on realizing partnerships with their counterparts in Africa in facilitating capacity building initiatives. 

“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 of Phoenix said, adding, “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.”

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.