The Church Celebrates 125 Years in the Ivory Coast

Source: FSSPX News

Pères Alexandre Hamard et Emile Bonhomme

In the Ivory Coast, the Catholic Church has closed the jubilee of its 125 years of evangelization on Sunday January 24, 2021 with a solemn mass celebrated in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Mockeyville, in the diocese of Grand-Bassam. FSSPX.News looks back on the birth of the Catholic Church in this land of West Africa.

“Let us praise God out loud and express our gratitude to Him for the valiant heralds of the evangelization of our country, thanks to whom the honey of the gospel has spread everywhere like a swarm of bees!” Emotion transpires through the words spoken by the Cardinal Archbishop of Abidjan, Msgr. Jean-Pierre Kutuwa, on January 24, 2021.

A date that marks the end of the jubilee decreed in 2020, on the occasion of 125 years of the presence of the Catholic Church in Côte d'Ivoire.

The first attempt at a missionary establishment in what is now the Ivory Coast dates back to 1637: it is the work of French Capuchin Friars Minor made by Fr. Colombin to Besné, in Assinie, in the south-east of country. But it was a failure, because the disease overtook the missionaries.

A new attempt in 1687, with Fr. François Gonzalez, still in Assinie, with the sending of the famous Prince Aniaba to the court of King Louis XIV, who accepted being the godfather of the neophyte baptized by Bossuet, in the Church of Foreign Missions in Paris.

Back in his country, Aniaba facilitated the evangelizing work of Fr. Loyer. However, the mission received a fatal blow following repeated attacks by Dutch Protestants.

Things became more serious with the start of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Mary, created in 1842 by the venerable Fr. Libermann, and that of the African Missions of Lyon, founded in 1856 by Bishop de Marion-Brésillac, which allowed the restarting of evangelization in West Africa.

In 1893, the Ivory Coast became a French colony. Two years later, Louis-Gustave Binger, administrator of the colony, called on the religious of the Society of African Missions (SMA) to provide school education and the training of future administrative clerks.

On October 28, 1895, Fathers Alexandre Hamard and Emile Bonhomme, the first SMA missionaries arrived in Grand-Bassam to serve the needs of the colonial administration, and to proclaim the Gospel: this is the date officially chosen to mark the start of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Côte d'Ivoire.

In 2021, the Ivorian clergy numbered just over 1,800 priests, including many missionaries in Africa and the West, but many challenges remain, especially with regard to the transmission of the faith, threatened by the presence of many sects, and the exemplary nature of the clergy, necessary in order to remain credible.

“We must return to our fundamental mission,” concludes Cardinal Kutuwa, “to pull every man out of his darkness through education by deepening the furrows dug on October 28, 1895 by Fathers Hamard and Bonhomme, who began the attempts at evangelization through teaching.”