Guinea, The Catholic Church in

views updated

GUINEA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN

The Republic of Guinea is a tropical, largely agricultural country located in western Africa. It borders the North Atlantic Ocean and Guinea-Bissau on the west, Senegal and Mali on the north, the Ivory Coast on the east and Liberia and Sierra Leone on the south. Guinea also includes several islands, including Tombo. Its marshy seacoast rises to hills and an eastern plateau region crossed by several rivers. Guinea's major crops include rice, bananas, coffee, ground nuts and pineapple; natural resources such as iron ore, bauxite, gold and diamonds are also found within its borders. Formerly known as French Guinea, the country left the French community and became an independent republic in 1958.

Dependent on the Vicariate Apostolic of Sierra Leone until 1897, Gambia was created the Prefecture Apostolic of French Guinea (vicariate in 1920), when it numbered 300 Catholics. The hierarchy was established in 1955 when the Vicariate of French Guinea was made the Archdiocese of Conakry and metropolitan see for the country.

History. Beginning in the 5th century and lasting for 300 years, Guinea was part of the kingdom of Ghana. Portuguese traders first explored the area in the mid-15th century, and missionaries occasionally visited the coastal region in their wake. The region became part of the Mali Empire in the 1500s, and Islam was introduced in the 17th century. After the encroachment of the region by the French, Guinea became a French protectorate in 1849, and joined French West Africa in 1895, despite efforts to unite and Islamicize the eastern half of the region by African militant Samori Touré. Meanwhile, organized evangelical efforts had begun in 1877, when the holy ghost fathers established a mission in Boffa. Their presence in Guinea was at the invitation of King Katty's sons, who had attended a mission school in Senegal. The White Fathers began to evangelize the northern section in 1896 and established a mission at Bouyé in 1897. By 2000, although Christianity had made headway in the cities, along the coast and in the forest region, little progress was made in the rest of the predominately Muslim country, particularly the central Fouta Jallon region, which remained vehemently Muslim.

Made an overseas territory of France following World War II, Guinea finally achieved independence on Oct. 2, 1958. President Ahmed Séku Touré's repressive and isolating measures led to the nationalization of all schools, the suppression of Catholic youth organizations and the placing of restrictions on missionary activities. When Archbishop Gérard de Milleville protested, he was expelled from the country and replaced by Raymond Tchidimbo, an African, in 1961. Six years later all foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. By 1971 Tchidimbo, too, had proven to be problematic; amid a storm of accusations against Portugal for attempting to topple the government, the archbishop too, was charged with trying to overthrow the government and imprisoned until August of 1979. Touré, who was considered a brutal dictator, died in April of 1984, allowing the more liberal Committee of National Redress to assume power.

During the last decades of the 20th century the military government began to relax, repealing its curbs on missionaries and permitted the minor seminary at Kindia to reopen. One thousand political prisoners were released, several of them Catholics. Major seminarians were allowed to attend the regional seminary in Sebikhotane, Senegal. After 1984 the Church was once again allowed to operate Catholic schools in the country. By 2000 Guinea had 51 parishes, 63 diocesan priests, 18 religious priests, 16 brothers and 91 sisters working within its borders, as well as aiding refugees fleeing the violence spilling over the borders from Sierra Leone and Liberia. The constitution allowed for freedom of religion, and the government extended tax breaks and other subsidies to the Church as a member of its Association of Churches and Missions.

In 1993 free democratic elections were held in Guinea for the first time in over 40 years, although the military government which had been in power since 1984 was elected amid accusations of fraud. By 2000 the sluggish economy, burdened by foreign debt service and the need for humanitarian aid created by hundreds of thousands of refugees, prompted concerns regarding Guinea's political future. Church leaders and religious worked closely in support of United Nations' relief efforts, as well as advocating peaceful resolutions to the political conflicts of neighboring countries.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde, 2:425429. Annuario Pontificio. For additional bibliography see africa.

[j. bouchaud/eds.]

About this article

Guinea, The Catholic Church in

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article