Catholicism in Africa

By Brianna-Paige Alegbeleye

Brianna-Paige’s mother and her African Catholic Women’s Group

Throughout history, Western Europe has been regarded as the “heartland of Christianity,” but given the changes in recent years, it appears that this title is moving onto another region. Based on a study carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate published in 2015, the number of Catholics in the world has increased by 57% between 1980 and 2012. However, it wasn’t Europe that showed a great deal of growth—it was Africa. Between 1980 and 2012, the number of Catholics in Africa has grown by 283%, putting the number of Catholics in Africa at nearly 200 million. This past year, Pope Francis visited Africa for the fourth time since becoming pope. While papal visits are special for any community, these specific visits are especially meaningful because all signs lead to Africa being the future of the Catholic Church. 

As a Nigerian-American, this all is an incredibly empowering thing to hear. Africa–a continent that has been beaten down, steeped in extreme poverty, and looked down upon by many–is growing in faith unlike anywhere else in the present day. This is something that should be highlighted, especially during Black History Month. Growing up in a Nigerian Catholic household, I have had the privilege to experience firsthand just how spiritual Africans are despite the generational hardships that seem to be inescapable. Both of my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, and I view them as two of the most faithful people I know. Their own upbringings in Nigeria, though on different sides of the country, were rooted in faith. It is this same faith that served as a cornerstone in how they raised me and my siblings. From the moment we were old enough, all six of my siblings and I were involved in our home parish in some way, and that has influenced my decision to continue practicing my faith despite currently being twelve hours away from home.

Catholicism in Africa is a huge discussion, and I know it cannot be covered completely in one small writing piece. However, this is a major turning point for the Church, and it is important to be informed about it. Nearly 200 million Catholics live in Africa. 200 million! And though the ways Catholicism is expressed from country to country differs, the center of it all is love. Taking this in, while also recalling the history behind Africa’s creation — the divvying up of land with little regard for cultural identities–Africa’s turn to Catholicism can be viewed as almost poetic. A continent that was once broken apart by man is being reunified under God. It’s beautiful. And as Catholics, we should not only be more aware of this shift, but welcome it.


Diseko, Lebo. “Pope Francis in Africa: Is the continent the Catholic Church’s great hope?” BBC News. September 2019.

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