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African priests are now the future of the Catholic Church in the United States

Quartz – In more than a decade as a Catholic priest in the United States, Martins Emeh has served as a pastor, a cannon law instructor, a diocesan archivist and a judge on the church’s Ecclesiastical Court of Appeals.

Emeh, who came to the United States for graduate school in 1998 from Nigeria and was ordained thereafter, currently serves as a priest at the Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Community, a bustling church in suburban Houston.

Emeh is part of a growing trend in the Catholic Church in America: a rising number of African-born priests. The number of American-born priests has dropped dramatically in the course of the last 50 years, and foreign born priests are increasingly becoming an important part of the fabric of the Catholic church in America.

No one officially tracks how many African priests work in the States. But Emeh, who served as president of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States until 2013, says that as the organization had about 300 member priests at the time with about 80% of them were Nigerians. He estimates there were about 700 African priests in the country and believes the number is much higher today. While the overwhelming majority are Nigerians there are also a few priests of from countries including Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon.

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