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Is Africa the future of Catholicism (and will the next pope be African)?


“Africa never ceases to surprise us”confessed in July 2022 Pope Francis, who flew on Tuesday January 31 to Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he will stay four days before going to Juba, in South Sudan, until February 5 .

The sovereign pontiff, who has worked since the beginning of his pontificate to shift the gaze of Europe towards the “peripheries” of the Church, intends above all to bring a message of peace to these two countries marked by civil wars.

But Francis will also come to meet some of the actors who make up African Catholicism, whose dynamism continues, in fact, to “surprise”, to the point that some see it as a laboratory for the future of the whole Church. On the occasion of this pontifical trip, The world of religions invites you to understand the issues of African Catholicism through five questions.

Statistically, is Africa the most dynamic continent of the Catholic Church?

According to figures communicated by the Vatican in October 2022 and relating to the year 2021, Africa has 256 million Catholics, or about 18% of the continent’s population and 5.2 million more people than a year earlier. early.

In terms of “recruitment” of the faithful, this therefore makes it the most dynamic continent, on a par with South America. Africa is also the continent where the number of priests (+1,116) is increasing the most, and the only continent where the number of seminarians (+1,282), among whom are future priests, is on the rise. This has consequences for the whole Church, because these priests come to fill the gaps of the other continents, starting with Europe.

How to explain this dynamism? “African Catholicism was carried by strong figures, very active after decolonization. To take the example of the DRC, we can cite the archbishops Eugène Kabanga (1932-2000), Bakole Wa Ilunga (1920-2000) or of course Joseph-Albert Malula (1917-1989), that the fight against social injustice or oppression have made them very popular. Added to this is the fact that Catholics have been and remain extremely present in schools or African youth movements., analyzes Léonard Santedi, rector of the Catholic University of Kinshasa. Before adding: “Finally, concerning the priesthood, we cannot rule out the fact that the figure of the priest represents a model of social success. This may partly explain why so many young Africans enter the seminary”.

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