In interview with the Fides news agency, Tunisia’s sole prelate discussed the challenges the Church faces in the officially Muslim state.
In 1964, amid government threats to close every Catholic church, the
Holy See and the Tunisian government signed an agreement subjecting the
Church to severe restrictions.
“We cannot in fact carry out the apostolate of the word” because of the
1964 agreement, said Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi, an Italian-born
Jerusalem priest who was ordained Archbishop of Tunis in 2013. “Among
other things, in 1964, of the more than 100 churches that until then the
Catholic community of Tunisia owned [the majority] were expropriated by
the State. Currently we have only five churches and eight Catholic
“We cannot even buy or lease buildings or receive donations,” he
continued. “Let me give an example: if a religious congregation decides
to close a convent in Tunisia it cannot sell it to the archbishopric but
“But this does not prevent us from living in harmony with the Tunisian
people,” he added.
“Our Church community is composed mainly of
foreigners, most of whom are students and workers from sub-Saharan
Africa. It is a pastoral challenge because we have calculated that every
year we lose about a quarter of the faithful, who go back to their
countries of origin because they have completed their studies or because
their job contract has expired. This loss is compensated by a quarter
of newcomers. In practice, our community renews itself completely in a
matter of four years.”