Evangelizing in the Ivory Coast

A leading Catholic charity is lending support to a bishop’s unusual initiative to attract young Africans to the Church with help from a little-known musical instrument and some oxen.

When Bishop Antoine Koné in the Ivory Coast was given a 150-acre plot of land, he saw it as a golden opportunity for evangelization — especially among the young — in a vast diocese numbering only 2,500 Catholics.

The youthful bishop already knew he had struck a chord with young people when he began playing liturgical music on the balaphone, an instrument similar to the xylophone and typical of this region of West Africa.

Speaking to staff from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he said that at his church in Odienné, in north-west Ivory Coast, he is teaching young people the balaphone and that Mass attendance has shot up from barely a handful to nearly 700.

Now Bishop Koné wishes to capitalize on the success of his evangelization initiatives by creating job opportunities for disaffected youth struggling to find a future in a region of high unemployment and worsening poverty.

Making use of the large site he was given, the bishop has plans for the young people to help develop a coconut plantation, and he wants to buy oxen to help till the land.

Bishop Koné has turned to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need to help fund the initiative.

The bishop’s plans were outlined to ACN project coordinators during the charity’s first-ever trip to Ivory Coast last month, where they assessed the pastoral needs of a country where Catholics are 25 percent in a total population of 20 million.

Returning from the ground-breaking trip, ACN Africa projects coordinator Christine du Coudray Wiehe said, “I very much appreciated the enormous needs of the diocese in an area of primary evangelization.”

“It is excellent that the young people are able to develop their faith and learn to play the balaphone.”

“Clearly ACN can’t help with everything,” Miss du Coudray Wiehe continued, “but we have to do more because so many people have no job – especially the youth. When young people leave school, the big question is ‘what will they do?’”

“ACN is not a charity which supports projects providing jobs for lay people except in very extreme circumstances, as is the case here.”

She underlined the country’s severe economic and social decline since 2000, when violence erupted leaving the country divided between rebel areas in the north and the government-controlled south.

Miss du Coudray Wiehe said, “I discovered a Church that is suffering a deep sense of abandonment, a kind of frustration borne of isolation from the outside world.”

“The bishops and the faithful face an emergency situation and they don’t know where to turn.”

During the ACN trip to nine of the country’s 15 dioceses, bishops underlined the need for catechetical programs and plans are underway for support from the Uganda-based Youth Alive movement providing help with pro-life initiatives, especially AIDS prevention, youth clubs and initiatives aimed at tackling drugs, alcohol abuse and prostitution.

ACN is also committed to helping the country’s seminarians based in buildings described by Miss du Coudray Wiehe as “deeply impoverished, with very little repair work completed over many years.”

She said the students lacked essential library books and suffered from a shortage of clean water and electricity, as well as poor sleeping quarters.

In addition to providing Mass stipends to seminary staff, the charity is committed to supporting the ongoing training of teachers and others involved in the formation process.

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