The New Evangelization - Africa


Today, the legislation under which the evangelization of Africa is carried out must take into account new ecclesial realities and developments.

When the evangelization of Africa was undertaken in the 19th century, the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide followed the practice whereby each newly created mission or circumscription was entrusted to the care and jurisdiction of a specific missionary institute. This was the so-called ius commissionis. In this century, it was reconfirmed by an Instruction of the same Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide issued on 8 December 1929.

On 24 February 1969 the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide issued a new instruction, Relationes in Territories, which is more in harmony with the new situation in most mission territories, a situation characterized by the erection of local hierarchies, and of more and more dioceses entrusted to the secular clergy, etc. The new instruction is also in keeping with the doctrinal principles brought to light by Vatican II concerning the role of the diocesan bishop in the Church and in his diocese.

The growth of African indigenous vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life also justifies the notion of a new period of evangelization in Africa. In 1988 there was a total of 33,072 students in all the minor seminaries of Africa. In the same year, all the 105 major seminaries of Africa had a total of 9,569 students.

The rise in the number of vocations to the religious life, especially as regards congregations of women religious, is truly remarkable.

Signs and Reasons for Hope

On the whole the context within which evangelization is pursued in Africa today is one characterized by relative freedom and liberty of action for the Church. It is true, of course, that in the wake of independence and national sovereignty, the Church was confronted, in certain cases with difficult situations which constituted grave obstacles for her mission. Fortunately, signs are not lacking which seem to indicate that some of those difficult situations are gradually evolving towards a positive change.

It can be said that African Traditional Religion today is open, generally speaking, to Christianity. It is certainly not aggressive or militantly hostile to Christianity. Frequently adherents of African Traditional Religion claim to be Catholics, or Christians, even though they are not baptized nor even catechumens, thereby indicating their sympathy towards the Christian Faith. This openness of African Traditional Religion is a factor favourable for the new stage of evangelization.

An extremely important new factor in the evangelization of Africa is the presence of Islam which frequently has recourse to any means for the attainment of its goals, means which do not exclude the use of economic and political power. SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) briefly addressed this situation at its Sixth Plenary Assembly, observing that Islamís undisguised ambition towards once Christian countries bears close watching.

Since Africa is only 13.11% Catholic, the urgency of the evangelization of the continent is manifest. Pius XII emphasized that urgency when he said that if more apostolic men were sent to assist the African diocesan clergy, "the standard of the Cross could be moved forward today, where tomorrow perhaps, after the activities of others who are not the followers of Christ have already cultivated the field, there will no longer be any opening for the true faith" (Fidei donum 25).

It is in the light of all these factors that one would seem justified in speaking about a new stage of the evangelization in Africa. It seems that there exist on the continent today, what could be considered, "signs of the times", a tempus acceptabile, dies salutis for Africa. An "hour of Africa" appears to have come, a favorable "hour" which calls on Christ's messengers to launch out into the deep in order to win Africa for Christ.