KAMAPALA, Uganda — An initiative between Signis — the World Catholic Association for Communication — and Faith Satellite Radio may mean more Catholic radio for Africa.

The continent has only 128 Catholic radio stations, according to Michel Philippart of the Catholic Media Council for Africa in Aachen, Germany.

Faith Satellite Radio’s “Adopt a Parish in Africa” campaign started early this year and is aimed at getting parishes or individuals outside Africa to adopt an African parish and offer it Faith Satellite Radio’s service for $38 a month.

According to Alvito de Souza, Officer in Charge at the Signis general secretariat in Brussels, Faith Satellite Radio is already running campaigns in Europe and America to raise funds for the project to enable it to provide every parish in Africa with a portable satellite radio receiver.

The faith-based satellite radio service that is already covering Europe has teamed up with Signis to broadcast high quality digital Catholic programs to Africa, courtesy of Vatican Radio. Faith Satellite Radio will offer both delivery of a satellite radio set receiver and the broadcasting technology that will broadcast high-quality programming to 31 African countries. Faith Satellite Radio hoped to reach 17,000 African parishes by the end of 2007.

Each Faith Satellite Radio receiver can transform into a wireless modem with the ability to download multimedia content to personal computers. Parishes will be able to present educational content to colleges, and students will be able to follow online courses from the comfort of their desktop.

De Souza said the project would use satellite technology to enable every parish in Africa to be connected to Vatican Radio.

“All major Vatican radio programs for Africa, including other major Catholic radio content, would be broadcast,” he said.

Speaking from his office in Brussels, De Souza said that the joint initiative comes with the latest technology to link remote parts of Africa to Vatican Radio. He was, however, quick to acknowledge the logistical difficulty involved in the distribution of the radio sets to the parishes in Africa.

“Logistically, getting the radio sets on the ground is the work of FSR, while ours [Signis] will provide logistical information to them,” the official affirmed, adding that Faith Satellite Radio had signed an agreement with DHL Courier service to get the equipment to the ground.

To ease their work, De Souza said, Faith Satellite Radio had already set up an office in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to coordinate its activities in the region of the Association for Member Episcopal Conferences for Eastern Africa, which is set to be the first regional bishops’ conference to benefit from the initiative. In fact, the first shipping of Faith Satellite Radio receivers is currently being distributed to dioceses in the continent.

He said Faith Satellite Radio was starting with the Association for Member Episcopal Conferences for Eastern Africa because it seemed to be the most organized. The region is comprised of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

But he was quick to point out that the initiative would not undermine work already done by other faith-based radio in Africa.

“Rather than undermine the efforts of local radios on the ground, this initiative will seek ways of collaborating with them,” De Souza said.

Bishop Joseph Franzelli of the Lira Diocese in northern Uganda could not agree more. He said the initiative was both a challenge and a bonus for better coordination, especially for dioceses that already have radio stations.

“But for individuals and parishes this is a bonus and for us it is a question of when this will start,” said Franzelli who is also chairman of the Communications Commission at the Uganda bishops’ conference.

The bishop, who at the time of this interview was just submitting his diocese’s logistical information to Signis, said he was particularly happy that listeners would now have at their disposal high quality programs. It would be up to them to choose which channel to listen to, he said.

Father Moses Hamungole, director of social communications at the Association for Member Episcopal Conferences for Eastern Africa secretariat, said he had heard of the initiative but said officials of Signis and Faith Satellite Radio were dealing directly with the dioceses. He said the initiative would offer variety to listeners, adding that listeners would now have access to Vatican Radio.

For Sister Germina Keneema, director of Radio Maria Uganda in Mbarara Archdiocese, the initiative will provide an opportunity for listeners to choose whichever station to listen to.

“In the developed world, there are many stations, and for the listeners it becomes a matter of choice,” she said. She said listeners cannot be glued to one station.

She added, “For us as a non-commercial station, having a variety of Catholic channels will only help to broaden listeners’ understanding of the Catholic Church.”

A member of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Mother of the Church, Sister Germina said she was very excited about the initiative and hopes that individuals in the future would be given receivers so that they don’t miss out on this opportunity.

But before that happens, she said, she would encourage the priests and nuns in Mbarara Archdiocese who will have access to the broadcast to share it with the wider community.

Already, the nun, who has a master’s degree in communication from the Gregorian University in Rome, has forwarded the logistical information required from her archdiocese.

“I have already consulted with priests and religious houses and have submitted a list for possible installations to Signis,” she said. She has registered 13 diocesan offices/institutions, thirty parishes and 30 religious houses.

The nun dismissed claims that society is not so keen about Catholic Radio content. Despite being a non-commercial station, she said listeners were keen to listen to their programs. During a recent visit to one of the parishes, they got an equivalent of $3,500 from “friends of Radio Maria Uganda” and she said that explains how the station is well received and liked.

She said Radio Maria Uganda, which went on air in 1995, has an established listenership, adding that listeners contribute freely both financially and otherwise. Because of the non-commercial status of the radio, most staff are volunteers.

Father Francis Teo, who is in charge of communications for the Diocese of Lodwar, Kenya, welcomed the initiative.

He is quoted at the Signis website, having said radio was still the most widespread electronic communication device in the world and a unique means of reaching the world’s poorest communities.

“The FSR initiative is a blessing to us,” he said. “Here in the diocese where hunger is a constant companion to people, the media may seem to take second priority. Yet, we realize that it is necessary in order to be able to carry out smoothly all the projects and works of social and human development — education, agriculture, nutrition, water development, health and women’s promotion — as well as the pastoral programs.”

Sister Grace Candiru

is based in Kampala, Uganda.