Senegal, The Catholic Church in
Senegal, The Catholic Church in
SENEGAL, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in West Africa, the Republic of Senegal borders the North Atlantic Ocean on the west, Mauritania on the north and northeast, Mali on the east and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau on the south. The Republic of the Gambia forms an enclave extending into central Senegal from the Atlantic coast. The region's low plains rise to rolling hills in the southeast, and the tropical climate is characterized by a rainy season from May to November, balanced by a dry season during which hot harmattan winds are common. Natural resources include iron ore, phosphates and fish from the Atlantic; agricultural products consist of peanuts, millet, corn, sorghum rice cotton, vegetables and the raising of livestock.
An independent republic since 1960, Senegal was a French territory for 300 years. In 1895 the region was incorporated into French West Africa, and in 1958 became an autonomous republic within the French community. Joined to the Federation of Mali from 1959 to 1960, under the leadership of Léopold Sédar Senghor it gained independence on April 4, 1960, with Senghor as president. The ill-fated union with the Gambia as Senegambia lasted from 1982 to 1989; intermittent separatist violence from the southwestern Casamance region continued into 2000 following the dissolution of that union. Economic reform was instituted in 1994 with the help of international funds, although unemployment, increasing drug use, illegal drug trafficking and petty crime among the nation's youth remained problematic.
History. Encompassed by a succession of ancient empires, Senegal became predominately Muslim in the 11th century as a result of the Moorish influence upon the Tukulor tribe. Islam developed slowly until the 18th century, during which it spread more rapidly. Senegal's first contact with Christianity came soon after the Portuguese discovered the Cape Verde Islands c. 1460. Senegalese chief Bohemoi was baptized in Lisbon (c. 1486–90), helping to promote the faith. During the 16th and 17th centuries occasional apostolic visits to Senegal were made by Jesuits and Capuchins from Portugal or São Tomé and also by French naval chaplains, who acted as pastors at Saint-Louis and at Gorée.
In 1779 the Prefecture Apostolic of Saint-Louis was created, and Senegal was entrusted to the holy ghost fathers. In 1819 there arrived the St. Joseph Sisters of Cluny, whose foundress Blessed Anna javouhey dwelt there (1822–24). Due to her care the first three Senegalese were prepared for their ordination in 1840. In 1845 the Society of the Holy Heart of Mary, founded by the Venerable François libermann, sent its first missionaries to Senegal. One of them, Monsignor Truffet, became vicar apostolic of the Two Guineas and resided at Dakar until his death a year later. Truffet's successor, Bishop Kobès, was the real organizer of the mission of Senegambia, which became a distinct vicariate in 1863. After the establishment of the hierarchy in 1955, the diocese of Ziguinchor and Saint-Louis were entrusted to the Holy Ghost Fathers and Kaolack to the sacred heart missionaries.
Into the 21st Century. Under the Senegalese constitution revised in 1991, freedom of religion was guaranteed, and despite its Muslim majority the country was proclaimed a secular state. The government provided financial aid for certain religious functions, and supported the 135 primary and 41 secondary schools run by the Catholic Church, which were considered among the best in the nation. Interfaith dialogue between the Church and Senegal's Islamic leaders in the late 20th century was greatly facilitated by the Church-sponsored Brottier Center in Dakar.
By 2000 there were 86 parishes tended by 200 diocesan and 148 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 150 brothers and 660 sisters, whose efforts in the area of health care and education prompted the praise of Pope John Paul II during his 1992 trip to the region. The region, which suffered increasingly from the spread of the Sahara to its west, was aided by the private papal charity Cor Unum, which began to donate funds to combat the increasing famine in the region in 1996. In 2001 Church leaders expressed hope that the continuing violence sparked by a Casamance-based separatist group were at an end following a peace agreement and the election of a new legislative assembly. The Casamance movement was represented by Father Augustine Diamancoune Senghor, a relative of Senegal's former president. Previous cease fires in 1991, 1993 and 1995, had not been successful in ending the violence, which began in 1982 and resulted in the displacement of over 60,000 Senegalese.
Bibliography: Le missioni cattoliche: Storia, geographia, statistica (Rome 1950) 107–108. Bilan du Monde. Encyclopédie catholique du monde chrétien, 2 v. (2d ed. Tournai 1964) 2:783–788. Annuario Pontificio has information on all diocese. For additional bibliog., see africa.