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How Vatican Funding Cuts Weigh On The Faithful In Africa

Since the gradual reduction of subsidies from Rome to diocese in the Democratic Republic of Congo, vicars have turned to the faithful to ensure survival of parish churches.

Easter celebrations in a church in Goma, North Kivu, DRC
Easter celebrations in a church in Goma, North Kivu, DRC
Thaddée Hyawe-Hinyi

IDIOFA — "We're in a slump," is the polite expression from the local priest in this parish in the southwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The cleric notes that with virtually no revenue from church activities, the faithful had long relied on funding from Catholic Church headquarters to keep their parish afloat. "Many thought the help from Rome would last forever, but they think we've grown big enough," the Idiofa priest explains. "Rome still sends subsidies to the dioceses. But they are lower every year."

Throughout the region, reports are that Vatican funding per diocese is currently down to $30,000. "Already in the early 1990s, Rome announced the gradual reduction of subsidies for dioceses and seminaries, big or small," the priest recalls.

The Vatican's contribution to encourage priests to celebrate at least one Mass every day is over. It feels the DRC's Church is now sufficiently developed to stand on its own two feet.

Passing the basket

Since then, more and more priests in the DRC have been asking their followers to contribute some of their own money to support the maintenance of their churches. And it's working, as many new parish churches have been built thanks to the donations of Christians and the contributions of neighboring dioceses.

As an example, in October 2014, the priest of Bukavu's Catholic Bienheureuse Anuarite parish told his faithful he wanted to collect money for Mission Sunday, which is celebrated every autumn. Called "Peter's Pence," that day's collection traditionally goes towards the bishop, who then divides in two the total, from all the parishes of a diocese, and sends half to Rome.

When Europe evangelized the Kivu Region more than a century ago, the aim was for "the priest to ensure your spiritual life, and followers to ensure their pastor's material life by offering the equivalent of one day's work per year to the parish costs," the chaplain of the University of Goma explains.

A vicar from Kalehe, Bukavu, tells about a woman he once received in his office: "Father, I noticed you only declare the contributions above $20, but I only have $1 to give to participate in the construction of the new church," she said. The vicar said he encouraged her to give the little she had, because he believes even small donations can make a difference.

But not all agree. In Goma, a Catholic church vicar said tiny contributions are not worth the sacrifice for poor people. "Putting a small 100 Congolese franc note ($0.11) in the common basket, it's better to keep it," he said, during a recent christening.

Meanwhile, in evangelical churches, followers are encouraged to contribute directly to both the church and the choir. And those who have a paid job must offer the monthly tithe (a tenth of their salary) to the parish. Awakening Churches do well with this system, though some see a situation ripe for abuse. Chrysostome Lengo, in charge of receiving visitors of the parish at the Ministry for peace for Congo churches, in Bukavu, says that: "even on celebration days, our pastor demands special contributions to allow him to provide his wife with nice clothes and celebrate at home with his children."

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