Michael Lewis SJ, president of the Conference of Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar, talks to America magazine about the new horizons being charted by Jesuits in Africa.
How many Jesuits are there in Africa?
We have 1600 Jesuits in Africa, but that is a moving target. It’s an interesting demography because you have to break it down and realise that over 600 are still in some form of formation, which means they are not really working apostolically yet.
Then there are the retired missionaries and some retired African Jesuits—which cuts out another 200 or so. So effectively we have got about 50 percent of the Jesuits engaged in full-time apostolic work in Africa and Madagascar.
Where will you find Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar? Are they all over or in certain regions only?
You have to think of Africa as sub-Saharan Africa because there are very few Jesuits in the Maghreb, and they belong to the Near East Province since culturally it’s Arabic. Sub-Saharan Jesuits are in an extraordinary number of countries.
The provinces of West Africa [one Anglophone, one Francophone] stretches from Dakar in Senegal all the way down to Brazzaville in Congo and up again to N'Djamena in Chad. It is a huge area with only about 220 Jesuits engaged in all sorts of things.
Then if you come down to Central Africa you have got Congo, which is one of our biggest provinces. On the other side of the continent, East Africa, we stretch from Sudan in the north all the way down to Tanzania. Stuck between those two provinces is the region of Rwanda/Burundi — where there are some 90 Jesuits in two very small countries. The East African Province is big — about 200-plus Jesuits.
What kind of things would we find Jesuits doing in this part of the world?
Many things! There are 28 Jesuit schools that are owned and run by the society, but there are a huge number of diocesan and other kinds of schools that are taken care of by the Jesuits. Fe y Alegría schools are just beginning to work very well; they are starting in Madagascar and in Congo. So education, of course, is an important part of things.
Photo: Russell Pollitt