Seychelles, The Catholic Church in

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SEYCHELLES, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN

The Republic of Seychelles encompasses an archipelago of 92 islands (33 inhabited) located in the Indian Ocean 970 miles east of Kenya. Mahé and the surrounding islands to the northeast are granite, their hilly terrain dropping to narrow lowlands at the coast. The 52 southern islands are coral reefs. A tropical climate predominates, although the region avoids severe storms. Natural resources include copra and fish, while agricultural products consist of coconuts, cinnamon, vanilla, sweet potatoes and bananas.

The region was uninhabited when the British East India Company arrived in 1609, and for over 150 years the islands provided a haven for pirates on the Indian Ocean. The French claimed the region in 1756 as part of the colony of Mauritius and made the first permanent settlement in 1768 to establish spice plantations. In 1814, under the Treaty of Paris, they became a British dependency, and in 1903 a separate colony, along with the widely scattered Amirante, Cosmoledo and Aldabra groups. In 1976 the region became an independent republic. Most Seychellois are descendants of French colonists, Africans brought from Mauritius as slaves or from East

Africa as freed slaves, or are of Indian and Chinese ancestry. The majority of the population lives on the island of Mahé.

Education in the region was entirely in the hands of the Catholic missioners, which included the brothers of christian instruction of ploËrmel and the St. Joseph Sisters of Cluny, until 1954. After that time the government paid and named the teaching personnel, leaving to the mission a right of veto over nominations. In 1958 the region's 50 Catholic schools educated about two-thirds of all schoolchildren. The island gained independence from Great Britain on June 29, 1976, but continued under one-party socialist rule into the early 1990s, when Bishop Felix Paul joined those in favor of instituting a multi-party democracy. Free elections were held in the country in 1993, and a new constitution was promulgated on June 18 of the same year. The region, which relied heavily on the tourism industry during much of the 20th century, sought to diversify its economy into agriculture and small-scale manufacturing. This move was encouraged by the Vatican, which viewed tourism as a threat due to the introduction of crime and consumerism that it fostered.

By 2000 there were 17 parishes tended by 11 diocesan and four religious priests. Other religious included approximately five brothers and 60 sisters, who served in the island's parochial schools. The Church was allowed tax-free status and its services were broadcast weekly on the government-sponsored radio service. It was estimated that close to half the population of the islands regularly attended mass in 2000.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde, 2:788789. Annuario Pontificio (1964) 349. For additional bibliog. see africa.

[j. bouchaud/eds.]