KENYA: Vocation Crisis in South Africa Linked To ‘Fear of the Unknown’ among Young People, Says Consolata Priest

By Paschal Norbert

NAIROBI, NOVEMBER 28, 2023 (CISA) In the past decade, Africa has overtaken Europe as the largest source of priestly ordinations in the world with the Vatican reporting that Africa added the greatest number of Catholics in 2021 out of all the continents in the world.

According to the annual report released on October 22, 2023, by the Information service of Propaganda Fide, Agenzia Fides, on the occasion of the World Mission Sunday, worldwide, the total number of priests dropped by 2,347 to approximately 408,000. Europe suffered the largest drop, with 3,632 fewer priests from 2020, while Africa gained with more than 1,500 priests.

The aggregated figure of increase in the number of priests is true for the continent but specific dioceses in Africa are currently going through the ‘vocation crisis’. A case in point is South Africa, whose Catholic population is estimated at 7% of the total population.

Fr Nathaniel Kagwima IMC, the Superior Delegate of South Africa/Eswatini region contends that the challenge of priestly vocations in South Africa cuts across all dioceses and may be linked to a “fear of the unknown,” among young people and the realities of the apartheid policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and non-white majority until 1994.

His observations are particularly true for the Consolata Missionaries who despite boasting of a rich number of African missionaries from Kenya and other regions, are yet to get a local South African missionary regardless of their over 50 years of presence in the country.

“To be fair with the Church and with the people there. On vocation, not only for the Consolata missionaries but also for the local Church it goes to the question of the young people and how they feel in line with the vocation. I think it is integrated towards the social life and especially on the secular grounds of how they perceive the Church and the majority of the people -the young people, I would say one of the things I have realized is some have the fear of commitment to a greater cause, there is the fear of the unknown. Secondly, there is the comfort, securing the comfort zone, and I think the sense of freedom that came post-1994 after the fall of apartheid would contribute to a greater extent to how they interpret religious life and even diocesan life. Let’s call it clerical life matters of structured norms and such regulations,” he states.

Fr Nathaniel in an interview with CISA on November 28,2023, notes that many South Africans even though Christians, are still attached to their cultures and traditions, as a source of pride and security. A factor that is also contributing to the uptake of vocations in the country.

“Secondly, I think it is also a societal issue – how they are as people.  You find that, yes, they are Catholics, which is not a major percentage but I think they are so cultural too. They are very attached to their culture and cultural identity. I think it is more of feeling secure with their own identity and culture and ancestors but we have a good number of local priests who are there so they have contradicted that narration also by being priests,” he says.

Job security and lucrative perks in different career paths also play a major role in swaying young people away from the vocation to the priesthood, which does not offer a clear source of income to support self and other family members.

“In comparison with other countries I would say there is the career ground that is very tempting also because let’s say in comparison with other countries they get a better enumeration, a better pay and therefore people in career seem to live better and therefore to sacrifice all that for the sake of joining a congregation and living in a very structured way that limits such possibility of acquiring more and having a free stable economic life is also another challenge but this is based so much on the young people as I have perceived them in some areas,” notes Fr Nathaniel.