The New Evangelization - Africa

- Republic in NW Africa: capital, Algiers. Algeria corresponds roughly to ancient Numidia, where Christianity was introduced probably in the first century.  Numidia was home to the greatest of the western Fathers, St. Augustine of Hippo (Hippo Regius, his episcopal seat, 395-430). At the time of his death, North Africa was  invaded by Arian Vandals, by whom it was held until 534, when it was recaptured by the Byzantine army. It fell again in 709 to the Arab Muslims, and North Africa has remained largely Muslim to this day. The Church survived in small communities till the 12th century. It then disappeared but was reestablished in the 1830s with colonization by the French. When Algeria became independent in 1962, most European Catholics left the country. Armed Islamic militants have killed more than 80,000 people since 1992, including seven Trappist monks and the Bishop of Oran. The constitution of Algeria states that Islam is the state religion, practice of other religions requires official acknowledgement and permission from authorities. Catholics now make up just .01% of the population.

Angola Republic in SW Africa: capital, Luanda. Portuguese merchants arrived first in 1483 for the slave trade, but missionaries followed in 1491. Europeans never settled there in numbers because of resistance to foreign rule. Yet Christianity took root among the native population and is the majority religion today. 1961 began a guerrilla war for independence, which Portugal granted in 1975, after undergoing a revolution at home. In Angola, civil war followed, which left the Church decimated. Government and rebel representatives signed a peace agreement in 2002 after the deaths of 6 Church leaders and rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The Church offered humanitarian aid to help rebuild the country. The Angolan government respects all religious organizations, but requires that these groups register with the government. In order to do so they must have at least 100 thousand adult members living in the state and be present in at least two thirds of the provinces. These requirements limit the proliferation of new Churches. Catholics make up 57.1% of the population.

Benin - Democratic republic in W Africa: capital, Porto Novo. It was settled first in the 16th century and became the Kingdom of Dahomey, which dominated the region. From 16th to 18th centuries, there were limited missionary attempts from Europe, but effective evangelization began in 1861, ten years after the French started colonizing. In 1899, Dahomey was incorporated into French West Africa. In 1946, it was redesignated a French overseas territory. The Church hierarchy was established there in 1955. In 1958, it became an autonomous republic of the French community, and gained full independence in 1960.  A series of coups followed. In 1975, it was renamed Benin, and in 1977 it was made a one-party state. The Communist government nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign missionaries, and jailed priests. The one-party system was dropped in 1989, and in 1990 the Catholic Archbishop presided over a national conference to draw up a constitution for a multiparty democracy. The plurality of faiths, and how to keep peace among them, is a challenge the Church faces in the new century.  Catholics are 25% of the population.

Botswana - Republic in S Africa: capital, Gaborone. The principle tribe, Tswana, migrated there in the late 18th century. In 1885 the territory became a British protectorate.  The first Catholic mission was opened in 1928. Independence was granted Botswana in 1966. The Church there became a haven for refugees from apartheid in South Africa, and where diamond mining has opened a gap between rich and poor, the Church has tried to minimize it.  Catholics are 4.6 % of the population..

Burkina Faso - Republic in W Africa: capital, Ouagadougou. The first mission in 1900 was started by the White Fathers (now called Missionaries of Africa). The White Sisters came in 1911. A minor seminary was begun in 1926, and a major seminary in 1942. The hierarchy was established in 1955, and in 1956 the first bishop from West Africa in modern times was consecrated. The first cardinal was created in 1965. That first mission, a hundred years ago, has blossomed into an archdiocese and 10 dioceses with 11 bishops, more than 500 priests and over a thousand women religious. Today Catholics make up 11.9% of the population.

Burundi - Republic in EC Africa: capital, Bujumbura. Early inhabitants, the Twa (pygmies), were followed by the Hutu in the 13th century. In the 15th century the Tutsi arrived, and became dominant in the 19th century. Late in the 19th century the first permanent Catholic mission was established.  In 1890 Burundi became part of German East Africa. It was occupied by Belgium during WWI, and afterwards combined with Rwanda by a League of Nations mandate. In 1925 the first native priests were ordained,  which brought people into the Church in large numbers.  In 1946 Burundi was made a UN trust territory, and became an independent kingdom in 1962. But the monarchy was overthrown in 1966, to be followed by years of  bloody strife between Hutu and Tutsi tribes. The Church, taking neither side, has suffered in this conflict. In 1979 foreign missionaries were expelled, and seminaries nationalized. Since then, many Catholics have been murdered, lay and cleric, including five bishops and the papal nuncio. Some in positions of power are apparently envious of the esteem the Church has among the people. Burundi's constitution confirms freedom of worship, but requires religious organizations to register with the ministry of the interior. Unregistered organizations have their places of worship closed down. The person responsible for the organization can be imprisoned if they fail to respect this law. 67% of the population are Catholic.

Cameroon - Republic in W Africa: capital, Yaounde. Catholicism came with the Europeans (beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century), but effective evangelism did not begin until 1890. There was a dramatic increase in Catholic presence between 1920 and 1960. The first native priests were ordained in 1935, and the first native bishops 20 years later. Its first indigenous cardinal was appointed in 1988. After independence (from France in 1960 and Britain in 1961), the country had one party rule until 1992, when there was a multiparty election. Violent confrontations between political parties preceded the 1997 election, with allegations of fraud marring the results. In the last decade, Church personnel came under attack, however relations have recently improved. 26% of the population are Catholics.

Cape Verde – Capital, Praia, Sao Tiago Island. Independent island group in the Atlantic 300 miles west of Senegal; formerly belonging to Portugal. Evangelized early 16th century and diocese established 1532. Church languished there from 17th to 19th century. For long periods, no resident bishop and the only minor seminary closed 1010 by anti-clerical government. Missionaries returned in 1940s, but the country faces massive emigration of youth because of a weak economy. Catholics 93% of population.

Central African Republic - Capital, Bangui. A former French colony, effectively evangelized from 1894. First native priest ordained 1938. Hierarchy organized 1955. Corrupt governments and proliferation of sects. Pope John Paul II urged the country's bishops to instill hope in a people ruled by a corrupt dictatorship. Catholic population 20%.

Chad - Republic in NC Africa: capital, N'Djamena. Former French possession, effectively evangelized from 1929. Hierarchy established 1955. Civil war in ‘80’s resulted in death of many catechists. After developing diplomatic relations with Chad in 1988, the Church worked to teach citizens the necessity of solidarity. Church workers ministered to hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced during the conflict in Sudan. The constitution acknowledges freedom of worship, but maintains that Chad is a secular country. Catholic population 9.7%.

Comoros – Islands in Indian Ocean off SE coast of Africa: capital, Moroni, Grande Comore Island. A former French territory, it became independent in 1975. There is a Muslim majority. The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, but the government discourages practicing faiths that are not Islam. There are only three Christian churches in Comoros. Catholics are .02%.

Congo, Democratic Republic of - SC Africa: capital, Kinshasa.  Former Belgian colony. Christianity brought in 1484, and evangelization begun 1490. First native bishop in black Africa ordained here in 1518. Anticlericalism hindered missions in 18th and 19th centuries, though from latter half of 19th, modern evangelization began. Hierarchy established 1959. In disorder following independence, priests and religious were killed, and many people reverted to tribal religions. Tensions between Church and state grew due to Church criticism of government. Catholics 53% of the population.

Congo, Republic of - WC Africa: capital, Brazzaville. Former French possession. Modern evangelization from 1880s. Hindered by unstable political conditions, communism, and tribalism. Hierarchy established 1955. Currently Sassou-Nguesso is president for the second time, having ousted Lissouba with the help of the Angolan army. He formed a government of national unity in 1997, but instability continues. The country has 3 million inhabitants. Catholics make up 58% of the population.

.Djibouti - Republic in E Africa: capital, Djibouti. Former French possession. Originally part of Ethiopia, Djibouti gained independence in 1977. It has a strategic location thanks to a port with access to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Port activities are currently hampered, however, by the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  A population of 623,000 consists mainly of two ethnic groups, the Issa majority (Somalians) and the Afar minority.  The current President, Ishmael Omar Guelleh, elected in 1999, is president also of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, which includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and Somalia. The constitution declares Islam as the state religion, it also establishes freedom to worship for all religions. The majority of the population (96%) are Sunni Muslims. The Church, planted early, was lost to Arab invasion in 1200.  Christianity returned with France's military presence, and the hierarchy was established in 1955, but evangelization as been ineffective. Catholics make up 1% of the population, with Orthodox and Protestants at 2%. Diplomatic relations were established with the Vatican in 2000.

Egypt - Republic in NE Africa: capital, Cairo. According to tradition, St. Mark founded the Church in Egypt (c. AD 40), in Alexandria, which became a patriarchal see second in influence only to Rome. Associated with a great school of theology in Alexandria are the names, St. Clement, Origen, St. Athanasius, and St. Cyril. Despite persecutions in the 3rd and 4th centuries, Christianity spread through Egypt like wild fire, and from thence to other parts of Africa. Christian monasticism began in the 3rd century, in the Egyptian desert. In 392 Christianity was made the state religion, and pagan temples were closed. But in 451 the larger part of the Egyptian Church separated from Catholic unity, in response to the Council of Chalcedon (451), which condemned monophysitism (approving instead the doctrine that Christ has two natures, one human and one divine). The Egyptian Church came to be called "Coptic" (from a Greek word Aigyptos for Egypt). With the Arab conquest (639-642), Christians were subjected to Muslim rule. Relations between the two faiths varied over the centuries, from antichristian uprisings to Christian participation in government. Civil equality was not achieved until 1866, and in 1908 a Copt was the head of government. All that changed with Nasser's revolution in 1952, when Christians were again marginalized. From the 1990s Christians have been the target of sometimes violent Muslim fundamentalists. Egyptian authorities impose restrictions to believers of faiths other than Islam. Although the vast majority (93%) of Egyptian Christians are Coptic (Orthodox). There has been a small body of Catholics since 1741, when a segment of the Coptic Church returned to communion with Rome. They were given their own patriarch in 1895, and number today about 240,000 (of the total population, about .35%).

Equatorial Guinea - Republic in W Africa: capital, Malabo. Evangelized from 1841. Formerly Spanish, became independent in 1968, when the Church came under repression. Situation has improved since ouster of former president. Ecclesiastical province established 1982. The government respects freedom of worship, but the Catholic Church enjoys privileges because of social and historical importance. Catholics 83% of population.

Eritrea - Republic in NE Africa: capital, Asmara. Formerly province of Ethiopia, first evangelized in 4th century. Population evenly divided between Christian and Muslim. Most Christians Orthodox, with only small percentage Catholic.1995 two new dioceses established, but without facilities or staffing because of long civil war. 1998 private schools and health clinics, most of them Catholic, were taken over by government. Eritrean bishops form an episcopal conference with Ethiopia. The government requires all religious groups to register, only the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church and Islam are officially recognized by the state. Those who don't register are obliged to cease their activities. Catholics 3.6% of population.




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