Today, the legislation under which the evangelization of Africa is
carried out must take into account new ecclesial
realities and developments.
When the evangelization of Africa was undertaken in the 19th century,
the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide followed the practice
whereby each newly created mission or circumscription was entrusted to
the care and jurisdiction of a specific missionary institute. This was
the so-called ius commissionis. In this century, it was
reconfirmed by an Instruction of the same Sacred Congregation de
Propaganda Fide issued on 8 December 1929.
On 24 February 1969 the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide
issued a new instruction, Relationes in Territories, which is
more in harmony with the new situation in most mission territories, a
situation characterized by the erection of local hierarchies, and of
more and more dioceses entrusted to the secular clergy, etc. The new
instruction is also in keeping with the doctrinal principles brought to
light by Vatican II concerning the role of the diocesan bishop in the
Church and in his diocese.
The growth of African indigenous vocations to the priesthood and to
the religious life also justifies the notion of a new period of
evangelization in Africa. In 1988 there was a total of 33,072 students
in all the minor seminaries of Africa. In the same year, all the 105
major seminaries of Africa had a total of 9,569 students.
The rise in the number of vocations to the religious life, especially
as regards congregations of women religious, is truly remarkable.
Signs and Reasons for Hope
On the whole the context within which evangelization is pursued in
Africa today is one characterized by relative freedom and liberty of
action for the Church. It is true, of course, that in the wake of
independence and national sovereignty, the Church was confronted, in
certain cases with difficult situations which constituted grave
obstacles for her mission. Fortunately, signs are not lacking which seem
to indicate that some of those difficult situations are gradually
evolving towards a positive change.
It can be said that African Traditional Religion today is open,
generally speaking, to Christianity. It is certainly not aggressive or
militantly hostile to Christianity. Frequently adherents of African
Traditional Religion claim to be Catholics, or Christians, even though
they are not baptized nor even catechumens, thereby indicating their
sympathy towards the Christian Faith. This openness of African
Traditional Religion is a factor favourable for the new stage of
An extremely important new factor in the evangelization of Africa is
the presence of Islam which frequently has recourse to any means for the
attainment of its goals, means which do not exclude the use of economic
and political power. SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa
and Madagascar) briefly addressed this situation at its Sixth Plenary
Assembly, observing that Islamís undisguised ambition towards once
Christian countries bears close watching.
Since Africa is only 13.11% Catholic, the urgency of the
evangelization of the continent is manifest. Pius XII emphasized that
urgency when he said that if more apostolic men were sent to assist the
African diocesan clergy, "the standard of the Cross could be moved
forward today, where tomorrow perhaps, after the activities of others
who are not the followers of Christ have already cultivated the field,
there will no longer be any opening for the true faith" (Fidei
It is in the light of all these factors that one would seem justified
in speaking about a new stage of the evangelization in Africa. It seems
that there exist on the continent today, what could be considered,
"signs of the times", a tempus acceptabile, dies
salutis for Africa. An "hour of Africa" appears to have
come, a favorable "hour" which calls on Christ's messengers to
launch out into the deep in order to win Africa for Christ.