Ivory Coast, The Catholic Church in

views updated


Located in West Africa, Ivory Coast, or Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, is bordered on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by Ghana, on the north by Mali and

Burkina Faso, and on the west by Liberia and Guinea. With its coastline bordered by lagoons, the region rises to plains before ascending to a plateau region inland. Hills in the west and northwest are crowned by Mt. Nimba, the highest peak. Rivers include the Bandama, Sassandra and upper tributaries of the Niger and Volta. The world's largest producer of coffee and cocoa beans, the region's agricultural products also include corn, pineapples and rubber, while among its natural resources are industrial diamonds, petroleum, manganese, cobalt, iron and copper. Once containing the largest forests in West Africa, deforestation by the timber industry is now a problem in most Ivorian woodlands. Tropical along the coast, the climate becomes semi-arid farther inland, and the rainy season occurs in the fall.

A former territory of French West Africa, Ivory Coast became an independent republic in the French Community in 1960. The population includes 60 native Ivory Coast ethnic groups, and at least as many foreign ethnic groups, with the Muslim population living predominately in the north and Christians residing in the south. Despite the discovery of offshore petroleum reserves, Ivory Coast relies on agriculture, which employs almost 70 percent of the population. The average life expectancy for an Ivorian is 45.5 years, in part due to AIDS, while less than half of all the country's adults can read.

History . Capuchins arrived in the region in 1637, a century after the Portuguese and other Europeans had established a flourishing slave trade along the coast. In 1701 a Dominican was appointed the first prefect apostolic of the Prefecture of the Guinea Coast. From 184245 the French signed treaties with the Agni and several other native tribes living along the coast, and four years after a battle with the king of the Mandingo tribe in 1889 Ivory Coast became a French colony. While the first priests of the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Mary arrived in the region as early as 1844, systematic evangelization did not begin until 1895 when the Prefecture Apostolic of the Ivory Coast was created, and missionaries from the Society of African Missions came. Growth of the mission was slow until 1918, but quite rapid thereafter, and a number of Catholic schools were established. The hierarchy was established in 1955, when the Archdiocese of Abidjan

was created and made a metropolitan see for the country. The first African priest was ordained in 1934. Bernard Yago (d. 1998), the first native bishop in Ivory Coast, was ordained on May 8, 1960 as the archbishop of Abidjan, and was named a cardinal in 1983. In subsequent years, all new bishops were chosen from among the native population. When the last French bishop retired in 1975, the episcopacy of Ivory Coast became entirely indigenous.

The Modern Church . A territory of France after 1946, Ivory Coast gained autonomous status within the French Community in 1958, and declared its independence on Aug. 7, 1960. The new government permitted freedom of religion under its constitution, and traditionally favored the Church despite Catholicism's status as a minority faith. Félix Houphouët-Boigny (190593), a Catholic who led the independence movement, ruled as head of state in a one-party system until 1990, when a multiparty government system was introduced. Government funding of a cathedral in Abidjanas well as a huge cathedral in Yamoussoukro, the birthplace of Houphouët-Boignysparked such ire within the Muslim community that the government extended similar support to other faiths. Interfaith relations were promoted by the government, which noted religious holidays and appeared at celebrations of all the country's major faiths. Although a military coup overthrew the existing government in December of 1999, the country returned to democratic elections in October of 2000.

The reforms following the Second Vatican Council in 196265 were well received in the region. While missionaries had previously rejected all local musical instruments that brought indigenous African religions to mind, following the council the Church encouraged the use of traditional African music and musical instruments in the liturgy. Many priests, catechists and lay people took up composing music using local tunes with lyrics either in French or in the local language. Traditional rites were introduced with numerous explanations that ensured their comprehension, although it was sometimes difficult to find gestures or symbolic objects common to all ethnic

groups. In many dioceses the pastoral ministry began to focus on base communities that met regularly. The char ismatic renewal experienced rapid growth throughout the country. The Catholic Institute of West Africa opened a section for the formation of lay people that became a great success. Catholic radio stations in the dioceses of Grand-Bassam and Man attracted a wide audience, and in the early 1990s stations were also established in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro.

The Jesuit-run African Institute for Economic and Social Development (INADES) was located in Abidjan, and its library was considered among the most modern on the African Continent. There also existed a major seminary for theology, although it was considered too small to respond to the number of those seeking admission. The Benedictine monastery founded at Bouaké in 1959 was affiliated with Toumliline in Morocco. In 1990 the cathedral in Yamoussoukro became the largest religious structure on the continent. Controversial, it was consecrated during a visit by Pope John Paul II only after the Church also agreed to build a hospital and youth center nearby.

Even after gaining its independence at mid-century, Ivory Coast retained strong ties with France, and these ties allowed it to maintain stable economic policies, encourage foreign investment and become one of the most prosperous state in west Africa. Still, this prosperity was relative; while Ivory Coast required financial aid from industrialized nations, a liberal debt repayment plan allowed the government to keep current on loan payments similar to those crippling the economies of many of its neighbors. The country's relative prosperity did not prevent it from experiencing outbreaks of ethnic violence by the late 1990s, particularly in the wake of a heated election in October of 2000. Fortunately, an increasingly politicized Church leadership was willing to mediate the contested returns, although a temporary military government ultimately supplanted both Christian and Muslim candidates.

By 2000 Ivory Coast had 243 parishes, tended by 418 secular and 267 religious priests. Other religious included 248 brothers and 901 sisters who worked diligently on behalf of the Church, and oversaw the country's 279 primary and 41 secondary schools. Among the goals of the Church was finding a way to bring Christianity into dialogue with the African culture and traditions, as well as with followers of Islam, a majority subject to some discrimination by a more educated Christian elite. Religious conversion between Catholic and Muslim were discouraged out of respect for Islamic laws, and leaders of the two faiths continued to work together to avoid religious conflict. In 2000 both Abidjan Archbishop Agre and Muslim leaders encouraged their followers to aid efforts to rebuild churches and mosques destroyed during an outbreak of violence following the fall elections. Relations between Catholics and other faiths remained on good terms, and regular ecumenical meetings were held with Methodist leaders.

Bibliography: r. j. mudt Historical Dictionary of Côte d'Ivoire (Metuchen, NJ 1995). Bilan du Monde, 2 (1964) 290293. Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses.

[j. huchet/

p. trichet/eds.]

About this article

Ivory Coast, The Catholic Church in

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article