AFRICA/SIERRA LEONE - Birth and development of the African Church, which celebrates 50 years: the diocese of Makeni

Makeni (Agenzia Fides) - On July 8, 1950 a group of four Xaverian missionary pioneers landed in the port of Freetown, at the headquarters of the British colonial administration in Sierra Leone. A few days later, the new arrivals were allocated to the mission stations of Lunsar and Makeni. These special places of the "Northern Province" thus became the platform for the foundation and development of a new African Church, that of Makeni. The group was led by a humble priest from Parma, Father Augusto Fermo Azzolini (1908-1992), who two years later, on July 19, 1952, was appointed Apostolic Prefect of the new Prefecture of Makeni. This was created on April 3 by the division of the Diocese of Freetown and Bo.
Ten years later, on February 24, 1962, the Apostolic Prefecture of Makeni was elevated to a Diocese, and on June 24, 1962, Msgr. Azzolini was ordained the first Bishop of the Missionary Church in the historic Cathedral of Parma. Bishop Azzolini remained at the helm of the diocese of Makeni for almost 25 years, ie until 17 November 1986, when he was succeeded by Mgr. George Biguzzi, he too a Xaverian missionary. He remained in the diocese for other 25 years, until January 7, 2012, when the new African Bishop, Fr. Aruna Henry, of the Diocese of Kenema was elected.
Bishop Azzolini, who retired in Parma (Italy), died on July 24, 1992 and, by his express wish, was buried in Makeni (Sierra Leone), where he still rests among "his people". As far back as February 11, 1956, Msgr. Azzolini - knowing that soon there would come a moment to hand over to the local clergy this African Church, which he, due to an apostolic mandate, had established in this land of Sierra Leone - had started the first seminar of Makeni.
Now, after 50 years of apostolic work - mainly thanks to his successor, Bishop Georgio Biguzzi - the local clergy has grown quite large and covers a good part of the requirements of this diocese, geographically quite large (36,075 square kilometers with a population of about 2 million inhabitants), although with a relatively small number of Catholics (about forty).
The local priests, not only are now numerous (around 34), but are also intellectually prepared with programs that empower them in various sciences - both theological and communicative - so they can compete without too much effort with the most organized and structured churches of Africa.
Now Bishop Biguzzi – who celebrates his silver Episcopal jubilee, becoming missionary Bishop Emeritus – hands this church over to the clergy of Makeni in Sierra Leone. At the beginning of his pastoral service he had been, for over ten years, involved in the horrible storm of civil war which in his own episcopal had established a stronghold of the rebel command. Now that peace has returned and much work was done - especially with the collaboration of many - Mgr. Biguzzi hands over to the people of Sierra Leone a rather adult Church.
This church of Makeni - now in its first 50 years of foundation and life - wants to assert her maturity and ability to be leaven in the mass. That land of the North - that the first missionaries of the nineteenth century found difficult and refractory to the Gospel of Christ and maybe impenatrable for a strong Muslim presence - has now produced her Christian good fruit and prepares herself, with foresight and with tangible results already, to extend deeper and deeper into the historical and social fabric of this African nation and thus become a concrete sign of hope and new life for many of its inhabitants, particularly those in the Northern Province. (GC/SL) (Agenzia Fides 09/01/2012)

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