Later on this week Pope Francis is travelling to central Africa for a five day tour. He will visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic and has a hectic schedule which includes visiting the shrines of the Catholic and Anglican martyrs of Uganda and visiting a refugee camp in the Central African Republic. The latter country is still in the midst of ongoing violence between Muslim and Christian dominated groups – indeed, it is in the middle of a fully-fledged civil war. Hopefully Pope Francis will bring a message of justice and mercy that will give food for thought for those on both sides of the conflict.
The Pope’s visit comes at a time when the Catholic Church is growing on the continent. According to Reuters, the number of Catholics has nearly trebled since 1980 in Africa – to over 200 million in 2012. And this is not just due to an increasing African population. The proportion of Catholics on the continent has risen in the same period by about 50% – from 12.5 to 18.6 percent, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a unit affiliated with Washington’s Georgetown University. By 2025, some estimates predict that one-sixth of the world’s Catholics will be African.
There is little doubt that Africa will become more important to the Church as it becomes less western-focussed. I have heard speculation that perhaps even the next Pope will be African, and some cardinals have been pronounced by pundits to be papabili. Of course an African Pope would not be unheard of, but there has been a long time between drinks, after all the last African Pope was elected over 1500 years ago! In the past, the Church in Africa gave us St Augustine, Origen, Clement of Alexandria. Now, it seems that is about to give the Church much of its future growth.