LAGOS, NIGERIA – The Roman Catholic Church’s explosive growth across Africa has led to serious talk of the possibility of an African cardinal succeeding Pope Benedict, and clerics from Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been mentioned as top contenders.
With 16 percent of the world’s Catholics now living in Africa, the church’s future, many say, is there. The Catholic population in Africa grew nearly 21 percent between 2005 and 2010, far outstripping other parts of the world. While the number of priests in North America and Europe declined during the same period, in Africa they grew by 16 percent. The seminaries are bursting with candidates, and African priests are being sent to take over churches in former colonial powers.
Untainted by the child sexual abuse scandals, the church in Africa draws parishioners, many in their 20s and 30s, who flock eagerly to services. The church is a functioning institution in a country that lacks them. In Nigeria, at least 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line, and 80 percent of the country’s oil wealth goes to 1 percent of the population. The police do not respond to calls, and electricity is spotty.
“Almost every system has collapsed,” said Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, in northwestern Nigeria. “The entire architecture of governance has collapsed. The church remains the only moral force. The church offers the best schools, social services, medicine. The God talk in Africa is a mark of the failure of the economic, social and political system. We are being called left, right and center to mend the broken pieces of what are considered the failing states of Africa.”