BY | March 13, 2013

Papal conclave 2013 is underway in Vatican. But reports indicate towards huge jump in Catholic population in Africa, decline in Europe

(NVOnews.com): When weekly Mass attendance is at an all-time low in Western Europe and the population of Catholics declined in the continent, in Africa their number grew from 55 million to 146 million between 1978 and 2007. Now the number has reached 176 million. Thus there was more than three times jump witnessed in 35 years.

Though the population increased in the natural process yet it is also true that the Church gained a large number of converts at the expense of Muslims and indigenous beliefs such as voodooism or animism, in which spirits are believed to inhabit objects in nature.

However, Latin America has the largest concentration of Catholics. Forty-two per cent of world’s Catholics live there. Brazil has maximum number of Catholic population in the globe.

Yet Catholics in Latin America are facing stiff challenge from Protestants, especially from the United States. But it is in Africa too that Protestants are gaining converts. Thus in this continent the overall Christian population is increasing.

Incidentally, not only the number of Catholics declining in Europe those attending the Church has also declined considerably.

According to research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Spain only one in five Catholics go to a service once a week. In Germany, it is one in six, and fewer than one in 10 in France.

Vatican statistics said Europe was the only region in the world to witness a decline in the number of Catholics between 1990 and 2010. During this period their global tally increased by nearly 30 per cent to 1.2 billion adherents. Thus Europe has now just 23.8 per cent of Catholic population of the world.

Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast in West Africa, is one of the largest churches in the world––larger even than St Peter’s in the Vatican.

It is because of the sharp rise in Catholic population in the recent decades that an African Cardinal, Peter Turkson, from Ghana is a serious contender for Pope this time.

Sixty-four year old Turkson is the head of the Vatican’s peace and justice office. He is known for his efforts to alleviate poverty and kept to the teachings of the Church that faithful relationships and not encouraging condom use is the moral way to end Africa’s AIDS epidemic. The Roman Catholic Church provides half of the continent’s AIDS care.

The outgoing Pope, Benedict XVI called Africa “an immense spiritual lung” for humanity. It was because of expansion of Catholicism in that continent that he named a higher percentage of Africans as Cardinals than his predecessors. He visited Angola and Cameroon in 2009 and Benin in 2011.

Paul Gifford, the author of several books on Christianity in Africa said the Catholic Church’s values “are in accordance with what might be called African values.”

The Senegal-based Gifford said there is an even stronger reason for the popularity of Church, rooted in its tradition of justice for the poor.

The Roman Catholic Church runs 55,000 schools and 20 universities in the continent that provide degrees for hundreds of thousands of Africans who would have otherwise little chance to get educated. This is because they provide free education and religious instruction. In several African nations, half of the population is Catholic and the Church is perhaps the biggest non-government aid agency.

Besides, they run thousands of hospitals all over Africa.

Africa and Asia have large scope for expansion––as unlike Europe and North and South America––there is huge non-Christian population. So if in Europe and the United States the Church’s stand on gay marriages, abortion, family values etc is being ridiculed, in Africa the situation is entirely different.

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