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Sierra Leone: an impoverished Church is coping with aftermath of Ebola epidemic
Fortunately, despite a discrepancy in numbers, Islam and Christianity coexist together peacefully, with conversions in both directions, as well as interfaith marriages, common and widely accepted.
By Daniel Konstantinovic
NEW YORK—The Ebola epidemic may be largely contained, but the suffering it caused continues. Such is the case in one of the countries that was at the epidemic’s epicenter, Sierra Leone, where, in the words of a leading Church official, “our biggest sorrow is the aftermath of Ebola.”
During the epidemic—which killed 4,000, leaving countless children orphaned and many people homeless—the Church in Sierra Leone played a crucial part in raising awareness about the disease and promoting healthy habits to counteract the spread, including safe but dignified burials. Today, Bishop Henry Aruna of Makeni told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Church is on the forefront of caring for the orphans and others needing continued special care.
Sierra Leone’s Catholic Church has taken on much of the burden of accommodating orphans by building orphanages and continuing to support them with humanitarian aid and education. However, the Catholic Church is a minority in the country, alongside adherents of other Christian Churches and indigenous beliefs, with 60 percent of the population being Muslim.
The government, said the bishop, is not helping the Church do to the job—which it is hard-pressed to do due to a lack of resources. Yet, said the prelate, who also serves as the national director of the Pontifical Mission Society in the country, “these children are our future.”
Fortunately, despite a discrepancy in numbers, Islam and Christianity coexist together peacefully, with conversions in both directions, as well as interfaith marriages, common and widely accepted. However, the bishop is concerned that extremist Islam—on the march in North Africa—will eventually make inroads into the country.
Bishop Aruna said that it is all the more crucial that the Church´s relationship with Islam in the nation stay cordial. Toward that end, an interreligious council comprised of imams and Church, whose aim is to strengthen Christian-Muslim relations as well as have an impact on government policy on matters important to both faiths.
The Church in Sierra Leone’s biggest challenge—affecting all its activities and ambitions—is its poverty, a condition made worse by the demands of caring for the orphans and other survivors of the Ebola academic—not to mention the ongoing impact of the country’s bloody civil war (1991-2002). There is little money for the formation of priests, catechists and lay leadership. In some cases, a shortage of priests will prompt an entire Christian village to convert to Islam.
The prelate expressed concern that if the Church cannot properly support its people, the already small Catholic presence could shrink even more.
Wall painting in parish in Freetown, Sierra Leone