The bishop of Saint Louis in Senegal had been all over South America and Southeast Asia, but Bishop Ernest Sambou found something on his visit to the United States that he didn’t know existed.
“I’ve found a kingdom,” Bishop Sambou said with the help of a translator.
He arrived on July 10 in Maryland and shortly after came to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to experience faith from an American point of view.
“It’s really beautiful that he could come to this far away country and notice that the people that migrated to this place are still growing in faith,” said Jean Paul Dieme, a member of St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point.
Dieme is a member of a group of Catholics who have immigrated from Africa or have parents who have immigrated from Africa. The group meets twice a month at different parishes and sometimes in members’ homes.
“It brings the church to the families,” Simon Biagui, member of Blessed Savior Parish, Milwaukee, said of the group.
During his time in Wisconsin, Bishop Sambou visited the homes of each of the group’s members.
“He’s a spiritual leader for us,” Biagui said. “Personally, I’ve learned (something) every time he gives a homily. It’s not everyday you have a chance to spend a week or two with a bishop and hear his teaching.”
Bishop Sambou was encouraged by the number of members in the group but would like them to become more involved in their own parishes.
“We have a strong prayer group,” Dieme said. “He would like us to take that faith, that strength, and share it, and take it to our parishes and impact them.”
But from what he has witnessed, Bishop Sambou is glad the group exists.
“He likes the fact that we do pray together as a community,” Biagui said. “Although we are from different parishes, it gives us a chance to go to church on a regular basis.”
One of Bishop Sambou’s objectives during his visit was to strengthen the relationship between the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and various dioceses in Africa, particularly in Senegal.
“We know the archdiocese has a strong relationship with South American dioceses and we do have a vibrant African community,” Bishop Sambou said. “It’s for us to establish some links between the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Saint Louis of Senegal.”
Bishop Sambou said Senegal is a developing country but needs help. Two priorities in the country are health and education, areas which are given a lot of attention from the church.
“The best schools, like here (in the United States), are Catholic schools,” Bishop Sambou said. “We are very much involved in health … we have a lot of clinics.”
Among the problems contributing to the health and education issues is the lack of adequate drinking water and access to reliable electricity.
“The Catholic Charities and ministries have been building wells to get water and actually help them achieve a certain level of self sufficiency to be able to take care of themselves,” Dieme said. “And the church is very much involved in that.”
Bishop Sambou said Senegal has received money from the Vatican, but since the 2008 recession, funds and donations have decreased. The diocese also gets some funding from the government.
“Yes, they’re getting help but it has become more difficult,” Dieme said interpreting for Bishop Sambou. “It’s a little bit of something; it is not a mountain of much. That’s why everything they do has become a lot harder now.”
Bishop Sambou said he felt welcomed by members of the African Catholic community in the archdiocese and learned a lot from his visit.
Members of the community feel the same. Bishop Sambou’s visit helped give some context to how much suffering exits in the world.
“Now we know some people are worse off than us and we complain so much sometimes,” Dieme said. “There are people still trying to get to the dignity by getting basic education, health care and food.”