A hundred years ago, 80 % of all the world’s Christians lived in North America and Europe. Today statistics show only 40 percent of Christians come from a Western part of the world. On the other hand, over the last century, Christians in Africa grew from less than 10% of the population to its nearly 500 million today. So, the Christianity is not dying but shifting from West to South.
The History of Christianity in Africa
The history of Christianity in Africa probably began during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago. The New Testament of the Bible mentions several events in which Africans were witnesses to the life of Christ and the ministry of the apostles. There is a possibility that the history of Christianity in Africa began when these Africans shared their experiences what they witnessed with their fellow Africans.
Simon of Cyrene – Jesus’ Last Helper
The Gospels of Luke, Matthew and Marc record that a Cyrenian was forced to bear the cross for Jesus before the crucifixion of Jesus occurred. History has it that, Cyrene was located in the North of Africa. The book of Acts also went ahead to note that, on the day of Pentecost, Egyptians and Cyrenians made up more than half the crowd that listened to the apostles preach the Gospel in their own native languages. The conversion of an influential Ethiopian eunuch to Christianity is also recorded.
When Jesus was persecuted God sent him into Africa
Egypt had earlier Christian visitors: baby Jesus and his parents, who fled to the land of Egypt to escape the murderous King Herod (Matthew 2:13-18). Though no particular church or converts were linked or associated with this episode, it is recalled in the Coptic liturgy, which states, “Be glad and rejoice, O Egypt, and her sons and all her borders, for there hath come to Thee the Lord of Man.”
A 1958 quote from the Children of the Sacred Heart in Northern Rhodesia puts it this way: “When Jesus was persecuted by the European Herod, God sent him into Africa; by this, we know that Africa was rooted deep in Christianity.
Fast spread of Christianity in first five centuries
Christianity spread throughout Egypt and Northern Africa rapidly and intensely during the first five centuries, regardless of the presence of false teachings, persecutions, and indiscriminate killings.
Many religious scholars hold the opinion that Christianity was introduced to Africans via the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The city housed a very large Jewish community, which was very close to Jerusalem. It is widely believed that it was the conversion of African Jews in Alexandria from Judaism to Christianity that leads to the Jewish revolt in A.D. 115 that completely abolished Judaism from the region.
History has it that, North Africans were the first to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The early church in North Africa passed through numerous and severe persecutions A.D. 64 -311. During this period, the church established the Catechetical Schools of Alexandria, alongside other prominent and similar schools of Christian teachings. From this early African Churches, emerged many significant leaders of the faith emerged.
The severe Persecutions in Egypt resulted in the scattering of Christians to the inner regions of Egypt. Egyptian churches spread the Gospel in their native language and planted churches throughout the inner cities of Egypt. However, overtime, Christianity in the region was further weakened by theological and doctrinal controversies.
Influx of Muslims in Middle Ages
However, a continuous influx of Muslims into the continent of Africa, during the Middle Ages, led to a huge increase in Islamic converts, which forced many African Christians into Europe. Though with Missionary efforts by the Roman Catholic Church and the European Protestant church, reclamation of some African continent for Christ was possible, however, up until now, Islam remains the predominant religion on the African continent, with Christians making up just about 40% of the African population.
Catholicism in Africa
The Catholicism in Africa points to parts where Catholic Churches were located and functioning in various countries in the continent of Africa.
Christian activity in Africa kicks off in the 1st century when the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt was formed as one of the four original Patriarchs of the East (others were Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem).
But the Islamic conquest and invasion in the 7th century resulted in a great decline and decrease of Christians/ Christianity in the northern part of Africa.
It was recorded that, despite these challenges, outside the Islamic majority parts of northern Africa, the presence and activities of Catholic Church recovered and grew in the modern era in Africa. The membership of Catholic Church managed to rise from 2 million in the year 1900 to 140 million in 2000.
In the year 2005, the Catholic Church in Africa, including that of the Eastern Catholic Churches, converted approximately 135 million of the 809 million people in the African continent.
In the year 2009, on the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Africa, 158 million members as estimated were Catholics, aside other millions of members of the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is estimated by 2025, one-sixth (230 million) of the world’s Catholics will be of African descents.
To emphasize these claims, the world’s largest seminary is located in the Western part of Africa, Nigeria, producing a large percentage of the world’s priests. Furthermore, records show there are 16 Cardinals from Africa, out of the 192,400,000 catechists.
There is Cardinal Peter Turkson, formerly Archbishop of Ghana, known as Africa’s youngest Cardinal at 64 years, and was also one of the several prelates from Africa estimated as papabili for the Papacy in the last papal conclave of 2013.
Listen to the Catholic prayer song Our Lady of Africa. It is wonderful devotional African music.
Christianity in Africa Today
Christianity is presently one of the two most widely practiced religions in Africa. Over the years, there has been tremendous increase and growth in the number of Christians in the African continent – with a drastic decline in adherence to traditional African religions.
The records showed that only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians and counting. The growth has been tremendous.
A 2015 study estimates 2,161,000 Christian believers from a Muslim background in Africa.
Some experts predict the shift of Christianity’s center from the European industrialized nations to Africa and Asia in modern times.
Feel free to drop any questions or thoughts about Christianity in Africa today.