Chad, The Catholic Church in
CHAD, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Also known as Tchad, the Republic of Chad is located in north central Africa, and borders Libya on the north, Sudan on the east, the Central African Republic on the south and southeast, and Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger on the west. The landlocked region has a landscape that forms a shallow basin within its borders. Its northern deserts evolve into forested lowlands in the southern region, where most of the population resides, while the Tibesti
Mountains extend along Chad's eastern boundary. Cotton, peanuts, salt, millet and fish are among Chad's major agricultural products; natural resources include yetuntapped petroleum reserves, uranium, natron and fish from Lake Chad, the largest body of water in the Sahel region. Dry harmattan winds visit the north, sometimes causing droughts, and locust plagues are also not uncommon. The southern climate is tropical. Three fourths of Chadians rely on subsistence agriculture or herding livestock, and monies loaned by the World Bank and other international sources have been invested in improving the country's agricultural technology.
A former territory of French Equatorial Africa, Chad gained its independence in 1960 while remaining a member state of the French Community. Decades of war, as well as invasions from Libya followed, with a final peace achieved only in 1990. Unfortunately, that peace did not hold and by 2000 Chad was once more wracked by rebel violence. In addition to warfare, Chad is also threatened by the encroachment of the Sahara, a situation that has resulted in famine throughout much of the Sahel region. Through Pope John Paul II's private charity, Cor Unum, the pontiff established a program to address the problems caused by the encroachment of the desert in this part of Africa in 1996.
History. First explored by the French in 1892, Chad was made a part of French Equatorial Africa in 1910. Almost a decade after it became a French colony, Catholic evangelization began in the region with the arrival of the Holy Ghost Fathers in the south in 1929. In 1938 two Capuchins, expelled from Ethiopia, took charge of the mission. Not until Chad's reclassification as a French overseas territory in 1946 did Jesuits and Oblates of Mary Immaculate begin organized mission activity. The Prefecture Apostolic of Fort-Lamy, embracing all but the southernmost part of the country, was created in 1947 and was confided to the Jesuits. Oblates were entrusted with the section in the southwest that became the Prefecture Apostolic of Pala in 1956. French Capuchins worked to
the east of Pala in the area that became the Prefecture Apostolic in 1951 and the Diocese of Moundou in 1959. Fort-Lamy became a diocese in 1955 and an archdiocese in 1961, when Fort-Archambault was created as a diocese from its southernmost territory and confided to the Jesuits. By the end of the 20th century three-fourths of the country's Catholics resided in the Moundou diocese.
Chad became a republic in the French Community in 1958, and was granted full independence two years later, on Aug. 11, 1960. Its constitution was drafted in 1962. Ethnic and political tensions continued to build over the next two decades, and in 1982 civil war erupted in Chad. One of the targets was the Church, and many Catholics who were actively involved in ending the fighting became political targets and were killed. By 1987 the government stabilized, and by 1990 peace had been achieved. In an effort to preserve such stability the Vatican established diplomatic relations with the new Chadian government in 1988. Unfortunately, under transitional president Lieutenant General Idriss Deby, the secular government began to curtail certain freedoms in early 1990, prompting Church leaders once again to take an active and vocal role in bridging the religious, political and ethnic differences that continued to simmer. Despite resolving a border dispute with Libya and implementing a new democratic constitution in March of 1995, the government remained in disarray, and by 1998 violence had once again broken out in the northern region.
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 Chad had 99 parishes tended by 109 diocesan and 130 religious priests. The 38 brothers and 285 sisters focused on the administration of the nation's 54 primary and seven secondary schools, as well as operating hospitals, shelters and other agencies providing social services to the nation's people. Although amicable relations existed between the country's many faiths, tensions between Protestants and Muslims had increased due to active evangelical efforts by several churches. During a meeting with a delegation of Chadian bishops led by Archbishop Charles Vandame, Pope John Paul II encouraged efforts at fostering "better mutual understanding," adding his hope that "all believers will put aside their antagonisms, and unite their efforts to fight against everything that stands in the way of peace and reconciliation." In 1999 representatives of the Church participated in a government-sponsored team to develop a Family Code designed to resolve family law disputes by taking into account the customs and religious doctrines surrounding such things as marriage and divorce and inheritance. Church members also remained actively involved in human rights issues stemming from the continuing war, prompting the government to intermittently ban assemblies addressing such concerns.
Bibliography: Bilan du Monde, 2:833–836. Annuario Pontificio has data on all diocese. For additional bibliography, see africa.