Pope vis­its Africa as con­ti­nent’s Catholics hit 200 mil­lion mark

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD -

NEW YORK: From the south­ern reaches of the Sa­hara to the lush up­lands of cen­tral An­gola, the Ro­man Catholic church is on the move in Africa, a con­ti­nent that may be home to as many as half a bil­lion Catholics by the mid­dle of the cen­tury.

Since 1980, the num­ber of Catholics in Africa has risen more than three-fold – to nearly 200 mil­lion by 2012 – ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tre for Ap­plied Re­search in the Apos­to­late (Cara), a unit af­fil­i­ated with Wash­ing­ton’s Ge­orge­town Univer­sity.

Its suc­cess is not purely a func­tion of Africa’s high birth rates and grad­u­ally in­creas­ing life ex­pectancy.

Cara es­ti­mates over that same pe­riod, the per­cent­age of Catholics in Africa’s pop­u­la­tion rose to 18.6 from 12.5. It is with such fig­ures in mind that Pope Fran­cis makes his first pa­pal visit to the con­ti­nent this month, stop­ping in Kenya, Uganda and the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, a deeply im­pov­er­ished coun­try where dozens of peo­ple have been killed in clashes this year be­tween Chris­tians and Mus­lims.

Num­bers alone do not tell the whole story.

In cities, towns and vil­lages across sub- Sa­ha­ran Africa, where wor­ship­pers gather in venues as di­verse as an or­nate cathe­dral in Nairobi and a road­side cross on the out­skirts of Kampala in Uganda, the Catholic church is fac­ing se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion.

Be­sides Is­lam – now the re­li­gion of al­most one in three Africans – it is com­ing up against a host of Pen­te­costal­ist and evan­gel­i­cal churches fit­ting into Africans’ per­ceived love of mu­sic, dance and freeform self-ex­pres­sion.

In many in­stances, the rel­a­tively staid and rigid na­ture of es­tab­lished Chris­tian churches, both Ro­man Catholic and Angli­can, are of lim­ited ap­peal to Africa’s over­whelm­ingly young church-go­ing pop­u­la­tion, ex­perts say.

“These ( evan­gel­i­cal) churches are quite good at tap­ping into tra­di­tional African sen­si­tiv­i­ties of giv­ing ex­pres­sion to what­ever you feel in a bub­bly man­ner,” said Christo Lom­baard, a pro­fes­sor of Chris­tian spir­i­tu­al­ity at the Univer­sity of South Africa in Pre­to­ria.

“They’re not like these staid churches that I grew up with.” – Reuters

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