Bishop Zinkula talks about his service on U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Africa

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Bishop Thomas Zinkula, then a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, baptizes a youth at a parish in Ghana, Africa, in this file photo.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Instructors of formation classes for new bishops reminded Bishop Thomas Zinkula and his fellow “baby bishops” two years ago of their service to both the local and universal Catholic Church.

Bishop Zinkula has taken that message to heart, traveling earlier this year to India and now serving as a member of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bishops’ Sub­com­mittee on the Church in Africa.

“I’ve always been interested in the universal Church. I have traveled to other parts of the world and experienced the Church in those places — Southeast Asia, India, Africa and Latin America.”

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The bishop’s India trip and his advocacy for federal funding to ensure the wellbeing of children and mothers in impoverished nations may have been factors in an invitation to serve on the subcommittee from its chair, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR.

Bishop Zinkula attended his first subcommittee meeting in June and is now preparing for next week’s meeting, which takes place ahead of the Nov. 11-13 fall meeting of the USCCB.

Homework completed! Bishop Zinkula reviewed and commented on grant requests for pastoral projects that bishops’ conferences in Africa have proposed to the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, which the subcommittee oversees. Funding comes from annual, second collection donations taken up in dioceses around the world. The Diocese of Davenport will introduce the collection in 2020.

Each subcommittee member — a cardinal, an archbishop and six bishops — received a different block of grant requests to review and make recommendations on. Bishop Zinkula assessed proposals for radio and television content production training for peace building; a solar power project for a Catholic seminary; training curriculum for future priests; a strategic plan review; and training for religious.

Among the objectives for the subcommittee’s 2017-2020 strategic plan is to build relationships between sister churches and the donor community. Suggested activities include solidarity visits. Bishop Zinkula plans to visit the continent of Africa in the future.

“The more you talk with people in your travels outside of your own country the more you understand what is happening in other places,” he said. “It also helps to have priests from Africa living here (at diocesan headquarters and in several parishes). I learn a lot from interacting with them.”

The bishop has visited Africa once. He traveled to Ghana 16 years ago at the invitation of his friend, Father Charles Boniface Ahenkorah, a priest of the Diocese of Koforidua in Ghana. The two have been friends since 1991, when both served as priests in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

Bishop Zinkula said he discovered on that trip to Ghana that some of the Divine Word Missionaries serving there were “Iowa farm boys” beloved by the people they served. Today, some priests from Ghana serve in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Priests from Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, the Congo and Uganda also minster in the Diocese of Davenport while completing undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degrees.

Witnessing this transformation in missionary work, from the U.S. to Africa and from Africa to the U.S., within the framework of evangelization “is a beautiful thing,” Bishop Zinkula said. At one time, Africa needed missionaries; now the U.S. needs missionaries as a part of a multifaceted effort to alleviate the shortage of priests. Vocations to the priesthood are plentiful in Africa, he said.

The bishop hopes that another missionary from Ghana will receive permission to serve in the Davenport Diocese. A change in immigration policies is holding up the priest’s arrival. While African priests serve Catholics in the Davenport Diocese, the diocese, in turn, serves the priests through educational and other opportunities that enhance their ministry here and at home, the bishop said. “Having African bishops here helps us to have a sense of the larger Church.”


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