Togo, The Catholic Church in

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The Togolese Republic is located in West africa, and borders the Gulf of Guinea at the Bight of Benin on the south, ghana on the west, burkina faso on the north and benin on the east. A tropical, humid, predominantly agricultural country, Togo is characterized by a rolling savanna in the north that rises to hills in the central region before falling to a low, marshy coastal plain at the Bight of Benin. Natural resources include phosphates, limestone and marble, while agricultural products consist of coffee, cocoa, cotton, yams, cassava, corn, beans, rice and millet.

A German protectorate from 1884 until 1919, Togo then fell under French supervision as French Togoland, a mandate of the League of Nations and United Nations trust territory. In April of 1960 it gained its independence. In 1967 a bloodless military coup gained power, positioning General Gnassingbe Eyadema as president. The government continued to control the country through 2000 despite the legalization of political parties in a new constitution drafted in September of 1992 and rioting during the 1998 election. Charges of military harassment of opposition leaders surfaced, clouding Eyadema' supposed "democratic victory." Most of the country's labor force was employed in agriculture, and efforts to reform the economy that began in 1990 had slowed by mid-decade due to political unrest and the drain on government coffers due to its need to fund a strong military in order to stay in power. By 2000 the region was again experiencing modest economic growth, although the government was operating in the red, with payments months in arrears.

History . The region was originally inhabited by Voltaic and Kwa peoples, and these were joined by Ewé immigrants in the 14th century and the Mina two centuries later. Danish slave traders controlled the southern coast during the 1700s. Togo received its first Catholic missionaries in 1863, when priests of the african missions society (SMA) came from Dahomey (modern Benin) to visit coastal villages. Two priests settled 104 miles inland at Atakpamé in 1886, but their mission was abandoned within a year, after both were twice poisoned, one of them fatally. In 1892 the regionnow under German control as Togolandwas separated from the vicariate apostolic of Dahomey and became a prefecture apostolic, entrusted to the Society of the divine word (SVD), which by 1914 had sent there 76 priests and 33 brothers, almost all German born. Togo had 19,740 Catholics when it became a vicariate in 1914. When Germany lost its protectorate after losing World War I, the SVD missionaries were gradually deported, along with the holy spirit missionary sisters, who had sent 51 members to Togo since 1897. SMA missionaries again took charge. In 1922 the first native priest received ordination. After World War II, when the region fell under French authority, Franciscans, Benedictines and several religious congregations of men and women entered the mission. The hierarchy was established in 1955, with Lomé as metropolitan. Togo established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1981.

By 2000 there were 121 parishes in Togo tended by 234 diocesan and 109 religions priests. Other religious included approximately 175 brothers and 590 sisters, who helped run the nation's 454 primary and 38 secondary schools and engaged in an active and vibrant mission. In an effort to establish credibility with the Togolese people, the military government appointed Lomé archbishop Philippe Kpodzro as president of the legislative assembly that drafted Togo's new constitution, which guaranteed religious freedom while establishing no state religion. Kossi Kpodzro was eventually removed from his position after complaints that he used his position to advance the stature of the government; Church leaders more recently refrained from injecting sermons with political statements, and also declined the president's invitation to attend the ecumenical Day of National Liberation festival celebrating the installation of the government in 1967. Togolese bishops were members of the Regional Episcopal Conference of French-speaking West Africa, and Church representatives also served as part of the Togolese Human Rights Commission, which reviewed charges of religious discrimination brought against the government. Islamic-Catholic programs existed, as did the Biblical Alliance, which brought together Catholics and Protestants in discussion of their respective faiths. Many Togolese Catholics attended Mass in addition to maintaining their traditional tribal faith, a situation that the Church viewed with some concern. During his ad limina visit with Togo bishops in 1999, Pope John Paul II commented on the rising divorce rate in Togo, and noted that such "irregular marital situations do not allow 'people' to receive the sacraments."

Bibliography: k. mueller, Geschichte der katholischen Kirche in Togo (Kaldenkirchen 1958). Bilan du Monde 2:852855. Annuaire des Diocèses d'Expression Française pour l'Afrique et Madagascar (Paris 1955). Annuario Pontificio (1964) 244, 422423, 775.

[r. m. wiltgen/eds.]