Global Church: The History of Christianity in Africa

This second of the three parts of The Church in Africa will focus on the history of Christianity on the continent. The first discussion will present a framework of three phases, or plantings, of Christianity in Africa: 1) the ancient Christianity centered in north Africa; 2) the Catholic missionary efforts linked to Portuguese exploration, especially in the kingdom of the Kongo; and 3) the efforts of Catholic and Protestant missionaries beginning in the nineteenth century. The second will discuss foundations of Christianity rooted in this history, including certain aspects of Christianity often overlooked that are traceable to northern Africa, an interesting Catholicism in Kongo that reflected sub-Saharan African culture, and written African languages and the revival of the catechumenate of the early church developed by missionaries in the modern period. The third will highlight features of Christianity in Africa that reflect the history. These include creative prophets like Kimpa Vita or “the Kongolese Saint Anthony,” many different African-initiated churches, and remarkable Christian leaders in missionary churches.

Watch the short videos provided in advance of the live discussion here: The History of Christianity in Africa

Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.


Highlights

  • Many Africans currently know little about the history of Christianity in Africa. Increasing knowledge in this area will allow them to have a sense of themselves as a living tradition, allowing them to make use of it to better understand their experiences in the present. (8:02)
  • “My mission is to give African Christians and their leaders a past that is usable for them to live in the present in a vital way.” (Paul Kollman, 8:28)
  • When African peoples were captured, enslaved and sent to the Americas, they took the Catholic faith with them. This has likely shaped the African-American Christianity in North and South America today. (14:35)
  • “One of the great gifts that North American Christianity has given to the world is the distinctive ways that African Americans have read the Scriptures, especially as a text of liberation.” (Paul Kollman, 15:25)
  • African Christianity has contributed to the growth and development of Christianty worldwide. (27:18)
  • “I am here in Mishawaka to bring, from my own religious and cultural experience in Africa, new ways of seeing and of being Christian.” (Kenneth Amadi, 29:29)
  • “People take thanksgiving very seriously in Nigeria, and it is an integral part of worship. What thanksgiving in worship means for us is different from what it means for people in the United States.” (Kenneth Amadi, 33:40)
  • Africans have continuously created new liturgical practice as they seek to better understand themselves as part of the Church. This can often lead to a new reality for how Christianity can be practiced and displays how the development of liturgical practice occurs. (34:27)
  • “Different Christian communities are figuring out ways to ritualize the affliction they’ve suffered and to move toward the reconciliation they seek.” (Paul Kollman, 39:33)
  • Reading African novels can often allow for deeper understanding of the growth of Christianity in Africa, but keep in mind that each is based on the experiences of the individual author. (41:02)

Recap

The second event in The Church in Africa series welcomed Rev. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., an Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He was joined by Rev. Kenneth Amadi, a priest in the Archdiocese of Abuja in Nigeria and a current student of Liturgical Studies within the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame. This session served to explore the roots and causes of contemporary realities of the African Church and the Catholic Church worldwide found in the history of Christianity in Africa. The speakers discussed various topics related to the challenges and victories of Christians in Africa over the last two millennia.

The speakers began by highlighting the deficiency in knowledge throughout Africa about its own religious history. Many Christians throughout Africa know little about where Christianity originated, how it was developed, and how it has expanded to become a religion with a large following. Rev. Kollman emphasized that this discussion and the work of the World Religions World Church department as a whole is to provide African peoples with the resources to make sense of the faith that is so important to them and to better understand their role in the Catholic Church that is alive in Africa today. The first major event discussed was the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in the Congo. Though this evangelization was not ultimately successful, it resulted in a very vital Catholic presence for a couple centuries. When Europeans began capturing and enslaving Africans from the Congo, a large number of them brought this religion with them, contributing to the Catholicism practiced in the Americas today. The viewpoints that have been incorporated into the faith by Africans throughout the centuries have shaped the faith currently practiced.

Rev. Amadi then discussed African Independent Churches (AIC’s). Though these communities of worship originated in Africa, they have spread and been established worldwide. There are many variations of these churches, but they promote African culture in many different ways, especially African languages. The speakers later addressed three terms: primary evangelization, pastoral care and new evangelization. While there are some areas in Africa still requiring primary evangelization, spreading the good news to those who have not heard of it previously, it is decreasing due to the efforts of missionaries. Also, while new evangelization, the reawakening of Christians who have fallen away from the faith, is widespread in Europe and North America, the trend is not observed as widely in Africa. Instead, Africans are taking part in new evangelization in other areas of the world. Rev. Amadi offered himself as an example of African pastoral care and new evangelization outside of Africa as he lives and works in Mishawaka, IN sharing his African culture and worship practices with Catholics in the United States. He also discussed liturgical practices specifically found in Africa, such as the Post-Communion Thanksgiving. This ritual reflects the cultural prominence of thanksgiving found in Nigeria and incorporates it into liturgical practice. As the African Church has developed, African peoples have sought new ways to incorporate elements of African culture into their worship. This is also occurring in regards to affliction and sources of healing, reflecting the widespread sufferings found throughout Africa.

The speakers then turned to questions from participants. In response to one such question, Rev. Amadi recommended reading African novels in addition to academic study. These works allow for the deeper understanding of challenges and victories experienced by African peoples, keeping in mind that any individual novel is based on the experiences of its author. Rev. Kollman addressed a question about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in Africa by identifying that this is organically developing over time. Though these concepts are found more often in the United States currently, the Church in Africa is struggling to overcome tensions yet working towards better interreligious relations. The session concluded by sending participants to breakout rooms to discuss what they have learned thus far in the series and how this information will better inform their experiences of the Catholic faith where they live.


View the discussion recorded on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, with Rev. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., and Rev. Kenneth Amadi, a Nigerian priest of the archdiocese of Abuja in Nigeria and a doctoral student in Liturgical Studies in ND’s Theology Department to talk about the history of Christianity in Africa.


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