Catholic Church in
Africa refers to parts of the Catholic Church
in the various countries in the continent of Africa.
Christian activity in
Africa began in the
1st century when the
Patriarchate of Alexandria in
Egypt was formed as one of the four
Patriarchs of the East (the others being Constantinople,
Antioch, and Jerusalem).
Islamic conquest in the 7th century resulted in a harsh
decline for Christianity in northern Africa.
Yet, at least outside the Islamic majority parts of northern Africa,
the presence of the
Catholic Church has recovered and grown in the
modern era in
Africa as a whole.
Catholic Church membership rose from
2 million in 1900 to 140 million in 2000. In 2005, the Catholic
Church in Africa, including Eastern Catholic Churches, embraced
approximately 135 million of the 809 million people in Africa. In
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa, it was estimated at
158 million. Most belong to the Latin Church, but there are
also millions of members of the Eastern Catholic Churches. By 2025,
one-sixth (230 million) of the world's Catholics are expected to
The world's largest seminary is in Nigeria, which borders on Cameroon
in western Africa, and
Africa produces a large percentage of the
world's priests. There are also 16 Cardinals from Africa, out of 192,
and 400,000 catechists. Cardinal Peter Turkson, formerly Archbishop of
Cape Coast, Ghana, is Africa's youngest Cardinal at 64 years
old, and was also one of several prelates from
as papabile for the
Papacy in the last papal conclave of 2013.
1.1 Ancient era
1.2 Islamic conquest
1.3 Modern era
2 Eastern Catholic Churches
3 Catholic Monarchs
4 Modern African papabili
5.1 Islamist persecution
6 See also
Many important members of the early Church were from Africa, including
Mark the Evangelist, Origen, Tertullian, Saint Augustine of Hippo
Hippo Regius in what is now Annaba, Algeria) and Clement of
Alexandria. Churches in eastern North Africa, such as those in Egypt
and Ethiopia, tended to align with the practice of the Eastern Church,
but those to the West (the area now known as the Maghreb) were
connected to the Roman Church. Three early popes were from the Roman
Africa Province. These were
Pope Victor I
Pope Victor I (reigned c . 189 to 199),
Pope Miltiades (reigned 311 to 314) and
Pope Gelasius I (492 to 496)
and all of them were Christian Berbers.
The conventional historical view is that the conquest of North Africa
by the Islamic
Umayyad Caliphate between AD 647–709 effectively
ended Catholicism in
Africa for several centuries. A prevailing view
is that the
Catholic Church at that time lacked the backbone of a
monastic tradition and was still suffering from the aftermath of
heresies including the so-called Donatist heresy, and this contributed
to the earlier obliteration of the church in the present day Maghreb.
Some historians contrast this with the strong monastic tradition in
Coptic Church of Egypt, which is credited as a factor that allowed
Coptic Church to remain the majority faith in that country until
around after the 14th century.
However, new scholarship has appeared that disputes this. There are
reports that the Catholic faith persisted in the region from
Tripolitania (present-day western Libya) to present-day
several centuries after the completion of the
Islamic conquest by 700
A.D. There are currently archaeological excavations in western
Libya that are focused on the remains of Christian churches dated from
the 10th century. There is also evidence of religious pilgrimages
after 850 A.D. to tombs of Catholic saints outside the city of
Carthage, and evidence of religious contacts with Christians of
Islamic Spain. In addition, calendar reforms adopted in Europe at this
time were disseminated amongst the indigenous Christians of Tunis,
which would have not been possible had there been an absence of
contact with the
Holy See in Rome. Jonathan Conant (Staying Roman,
Conquest and Identity in
Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700,
Cambridge, 2012, pp. 362–370) reviews the evidence. He states
Islam did not become the majority in Tunisia until quite late in
the 9th century and the "vast majority until some time in the tenth,"
(pp. 363–64). Christians tended to live in towns and cities and
often spoke African Latin, "al-Latini al-Afriqi", until "at least the
12th century" (ibid. p. 363). By 1076 there were only two bishops
left in Africa.
Pope Gregory had to appoint a third in order to bring
up the number to three to consecrate a new Bishop of Hippo Regius. The
decline of Christianity was hastened in part by the destruction wrote
by the invasion of the Banu Hilal, sent by the
Sunni Islamic emirs. This resulted in the arabization
of Tunisia up till then Berber and Latin speaking. In 1159-1160 many
of the remaining Christians were evacuated by the
Normans to Sicily.
It does look like local Catholicism came under enormous pressure
around the time that the Muslim fundamentalist regimes of the Almohads
Almoravids came into power, and the record shows demands made of
the local Christians of
Tunis to convert to Islam. We still have
reports of Christian inhabitants and a bishop in the city of Kairoun
around 1150 A.D. - a significant report, since this city of founded by
Arab muslims around 680 A.D. as their administrative center after
their conquest. A letter in the
Catholic Church archives from the 14th
century shows that there were still four bishoprics left in North
Africa, admittedly a sharp decline from the over four hundred
bishoprics in existence at the time of the Islamic conquest.
A Catholic church building in Lagos,
Nigeria around 1917.
By 1830, when the French came as colonial conquerors to
Tunis, local Catholicism had been extinguished. The growth of
Catholicism in the region after the French conquest was built on
European colonizers and settlers, and these immigrants and most of
their descendants left when the countries of the region became
Eastern Catholic Churches
Latin Church remains the largest throughout the continent.
However, in eastern Africa, there has been an emergence of Alexandrian
Rite Eastern Catholic Churches: the Coptic Catholic Church, the
Ethiopian Catholic Church, and the Eritrean
Catholic Church (2015).
Despite with prevalent republican governments in contemporary time,
Africa has a tradition of Catholic monarchs, such as in the kingdoms
of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Modern African papabili
Cathedral of Our Lady of Victories in Dakar.
Hilaire Belloc had proclaimed, "The Church is Europe, and
Europe is the Church." However, according to Philip Jenkins, the 20th
century saw major changes for the Catholic Church. By 1960, the
College of Cardinals
College of Cardinals had its first African, Laurean Rugambwa. By
John Paul II
John Paul II selected many Cardinals from Third
World nations, and by 2001 they made up over 40 percent of the
body. In 2002, Italian Cardinals made up just 15 percent of the
College, a drop from 60 percent in the 1950s.
Jenkins saw the conservatism of
John Paul II
John Paul II as particularly
attractive to Catholics in developing nations and likely to be a
dominant force in
Catholic politics for some time. Francis Arinze,
a Nigerian Cardinal and adviser to
Pope John Paul II, was considered
papabile before the 2005 papal conclave, which elected Benedict
XVI. As Arinze was considered theologically conservative, Jenkins
suggests he would have brought African "notions of authority and
charisma" to the office, rather than democracy.
Jenkins states, "The prospect of a Black African pope understandably
excites Christians of all political persuasions." Even Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger, three years before his own selection as Pope,
labeled the prospect of an African pope as "entirely plausible" and a
"wonderful sign for all Christianity." According to Financial
Times, an African such as Arinze would "boost the popularity" of the
church, which is facing strong competition in
Africa from Pentecostal,
Baptist, and Evangelical denominations. The
Daily Telegraph has
said that an "African papacy is the logical outcome" given that the
majority of Catholics now live in the developing world, and in
Catholic Church in
Africa "has grown by 20 times since
In the papal conclave of 2013,
Cardinal Peter Turkson
Cardinal Peter Turkson of
called "the most likely" candidate from
Africa and was considered the
favorite to win the papacy before the election of Jorge Mario
Bergoglio in 2013.
Persecution of Christians
Persecution of Christians by Islamists, such as
Boko Haram in Nigeria,
remains one of the hardest issues to solve for the
Catholic Church in
Although Catholic priestly vow of celibacy is a general challenge for
all priests in the Catholic Church, for instance because of cultural
expectations for a man to have a family,
Africa presents particular
problems in the subject. Early in the 21st century, as celibacy
continued to come under question,
Africa was cited as a region where
the violation of celibacy is particularly rampant. Priests on the
continent were accused of taking wives and concubines. Isolation of
priests working in rural Africa, and the low status of women, is said
to add to the temptation. A breakaway sect of married previously
Catholic priests in Uganda, called the Catholic Apostolic National
Church, formed in 2010 following the excommunication of a married
Pope Benedict XVI.
List of African popes
List of saints from Africa
Roman Catholicism in Asia
Roman Catholicism in North America
Roman Catholicism in South America
Roman Catholicism in Australia
Roman Catholicism in Europe
List of Catholic dioceses in Guinea-Bissau
^ The Catholic Explosion, Zenit News Agency, 11 November 2011
^ a b Rachel Donadio, "On
Pope Will Find Place Where
Church Is Surging Amid Travail," New York Times, 16 March 2009.
^ David Barrett, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol.
30, No 1, January 2006, 29.
^ Donadio, Rachel (2009-03-15). "On
Pope Will Find Place
Where Church Is Surging Amid Travail". The New York Times.
ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
^ "Synod to Address Ethnic and Religious Divisions," America, 12
^ "Bona, Algeria". World Digital Library. 1899. Retrieved
^ Last autochthonous Christians in the
Maghreb (in French)
^ a b c d
Philip Jenkins (2002). The Next Christendom: The Coming of
Global Christianity. Oxford University Press.
^ a b c Bruce Johnston (April 5, 2002). "King-maker cardinal hints at
possibility of African pope". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved
^ Carroll, Rory. 2003, October 3. "The Guardian Profile: Francis
Cardinal Arinze." The Guardian.
^ Andrew England (April 4, 2005). "Kenyans pledge to carry on papal
projects". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-04-20.
^ Greg Watts (November 2, 2007). "A mission to speak out of Africa".
The Times. Retrieved 2008-04-20.
^ Lisa Miller (April 7, 2010). "The trouble with celibacy". Newsweek.
Catholic Church in Africa
Cape Verde (Cabo Verde)
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo
Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire)
São Tomé and Príncipe
States with limited
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
Canary Islands / Ceuta / Melilla (Spain)
Mayotte / Réunion (France)
Saint Helena / Ascension Island / Tristan da
Cunha (United Kingd