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When 300% growth is not enough: the measure of African evangelization

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 19, 2017

This news item from Nigeria today is food for thought. Archbishop Mathew Man’Oso Ndagoso of Kaduna is concerned, because he sees “no sense of urgency to proclaim the Gospel.” The archbishop fears that “complacency, lethargy, and nonchalance” are choking off the evangelizing impulse in his country.

To put those fears in perspective, let’s look at some numbers.

In 1960, when Archbishop Ndagoso was born, Catholics accounted for much less than 1% of the population in the geographical area of the Kaduna archdiocese, which he now leads. By 1986, when he was ordained to the priesthood (in another diocese), that figure in Kaduna had risen above 2%: an impressive rise, but still a small number. Today it is somewhere around 10%.

(According to the official statistics in the Annuario Pontifico, the population of Kaduna is now 32% Catholic. That figure would mean a whopping 1,000% growth in the Catholic portion of the population during the past 65 years. However, I suspect an error in the statistics, since they show a huge unexplained drop in the overall population, for which I can see no good explanation. I am assuming, in what follows, that the overall population was at least steady. If that assumption is wrong, I am seriously understating my case.)

In absolute numbers, the Catholic population of Kaduna is ten times larger today than it was in 1970. That number, too, understates the case, since the boundaries of the archdiocese have been trimmed twice during that period, with new dioceses carved out of the territory.

So when Archbishop Ndagoso complains about complacency in evangelization, he is speaking about an archdiocese in which the Catholic population has grown by 1000% in absolute terms, and by over 300% as a proportion of the overall population. And he thinks that is lethargic?! What American bishop wouldn’t be delighted to see the same sort of statistics on his diocesan reports?

But is Archbishop Ndagoso being illogical? Or is he merely an energetic pastor, a shepherd fired by a holy zeal for souls? Aren’t great orchestras led by conductors who push good musicians to a higher level? And great athletic teams by coaches who push their players to do more than they might have thought possible? When a prelate can look at 300% growth and worry about complacency—wondering why it’s not 500%, I suppose—it’s no surprise that the Catholic faith is spreading so quickly across Africa.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Jan. 20, 2017 8:24 PM ET USA

    We see an lot of Nigerian priests even here in the US. The "mission" spirit which ought to be in each of us is not wanting in them. It is a time for serious self examination.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jan. 19, 2017 11:36 AM ET USA

    I am quietly hoping that the millions of Muslims who are flooding Europe, somehow, with God's grace, would take good advantage of their new freedom and become interested in exploring and eventually converting to Christianity. It's a proselytizing ambition although with God everything is possible.