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Mali, The Catholic Church in


One of the world's poorest nations, the Republic of Mali is a tropical, landlocked country in west Africa. Located south of algeria, it is bound on the east by Niger, on the south by burkina faso and the ivory coast, on the southwest by guinea, on the west by senegal and on the northwest by mauritania. Known as the French Sudan until 1958, Mali joined with Senegal and as the Federation of Mali, gained increasing political autonomy until it was granted political independence by French Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle in 1960. A flat, semiarid region, Mali suffers from desertification by the encroachment of the Western Sahara to its north. To the south it is crossed by the Upper Niger, allowing for the seasonal cultivation of rice, millet, cotton and peanuts

along the river. Mali's population consists mostly of Bambara, Fulani, Snufo, Soninke, Tuareg and other tribes, although Berbers and a European minority are also represented. Cotton, account's for most of the nation's agricultural exports, while government efforts to attract international mining operations to the region bode well for its future as a major gold exporter.

History. Islam entered the area in the 11th century, and an empire was established by conqueror Sundjata Keita 200 years later, made rich through its control of the gold trade across the Sahara. From the 15th through the 18th century Mali fell under Moroccan rule, and then was ruled by native tribes. While Christianity appeared during the 19th century, brought by French colonists who renamed the region French Sudan c. 1899, it made slow progress. In 1868 the Prefecture Apostolic of the Sahara and Sudan was erected, with Cardinal Charles lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers, as superior and apostolic delegate. The first two groups of White Fathers to enter the region were massacred by local tribes as they traveled the Sahara (1876, 1881); a later group successfully entered Mali from Senegal and established missions at Ségou and Tombouctou in 1895. The White Sisters arrived in 1898 and established hospitals at Kati and Ségou. From 1904 to 1920 Mali was joined with other French territories to form the colony of Upper Senegal-Niger.

Until 1921 the growth of the mission in Mali was hampered by the hostility of French colonial officials, epidemics of yellow fever and the mobilization of missionaries during World War I. The mission began to develop with the creation of the Vicariate Apostolic of Bamako in 1921, whose limits were practically the same as those of Mali. Following World War II the region was reorganized as the French overseas territory of the Sudan. The Church established a hierarchy there in 1955, with Bamako as its archdiocese and metropolitan see. Despite native Malian's increasingly vocal movement for independence from French rule, the region agreed to join the other five nations comprising French West Africa in 1958 and accept the political status of a republic within the French Community. On Sept. 22, 1960 the Sudanese Republic

and Senegal achieved political independence as the Mali Federation; when Senegal withdrew less than a year later, the region was renamed Mali. The first Malian bishop, Luc Sangaré, became archbishop of Mali in 1962.

Mali's first independent government was socialist in its leanings, and it was overthrown by a military coup led by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré in 1968. This military dictatorship lasted for the next 23 years, although Traoré held mock elections beginning in 1972. In 1991 Touré was arrested, and Mali held its first democratic, multi-party elections in 1992. President Alpha Oumar Konare held the position of president through 2000

The 28 parishes established in the region in 1964 had grown to 42 parishes by 2000, reflecting the work of Church evangelicalism. In addition to 71 secular and 83 religious priests, 22 brothers and 206 sisters tended the region. During the second half of the 20th century the Church worked to promote the role of women within this predominately Sunni Muslim nation, freeing them from their traditional cloistered life. In 1998 President Konare traveled to the Vatican for a respectful audience with Pope John Paul II, a reflection of Konare's willingness to promote cooperation among his people's diverse faiths. As Mali entered the 21st century, tribal warfare in Mali's northern region, the nation's heavy reliance on foreign aid and the social and economic devastation caused by desertification and drought were the problems most directly confronting this nation. In 2000 the average life expectancy of a Malian was only 47 years, a situation that troubled the Church hierarchy. Through his personal charity, distributed by Core Unum, the Pope continued in his efforts to combat the effects of the spread of the Sahara, donating $5.5 million to Mali and other nations in the Sahel region in 1999 alone.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde, 2:587590. Annuario Pontificio has annual data for all dioceses. For additional bibliography, see africa.

[j. de benoist/eds.]

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