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