Catholic Church Reports Biggest Growth in Africa

Africa is the region where the Catholic Church is experiencing the biggest growth, announced the Vatican recently.

Between the years 2000 and 2006, the number of Catholic faithfuls has risen from 12.4 percent to 14 percent, reported the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in its May 18 issue, according to Religion News Service. The Vatican newspaper was summarizing information found in the new edition of the church's statistical yearbook, which features a survey of worldwide Catholicism during those seven years.

In addition to adherents, the Catholic Church in Africa boasts a dramatic increase in the number of its church personnel. According to the yearbook, there was nearly a 25 percent increase in priests and almost 16.7 percent increase in the number of nuns during that time period.

Yet elsewhere, the Catholic Church did not fare so well; it has either declined or remained roughly the same.

The Catholic Church remains roughly unchanged in the Americas and in Asia, and is declining in Europe.

In Europe, the number of Catholics fell from 26.8 percent to 25 percent, and the number of priests declined by nearly six percent.

One growing challenge to the Catholic Church is the rise of Pentecostalism around the world, which in the process of its exponential growth has converted some Catholics to its fold.

Last year, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called on the world's Catholic cardinals to critically examine what the Catholic Church has failed to do in response to the rise of the Pentecostal movements.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI had criticized Pentecostal churches for using aggressive tactics to win souls earlier that year.

In Brazil alone, Roman Catholics used to account for about 90 percent of the population in the 1960s; by 2005, however, it was down to 67 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile in Africa, Pentecostals today represent about 12 percent, or about 107 million, of the continent's population according to the World Christian Database. Charismatic members of non-Pentecostal denominations make up another 5 percent of the population, or about 40 million. Just over three decades ago, the proportion of Pentecostals and Charismatics combined was less than 5 percent.

The Pentecostal boom is most prominent in such countries as South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to an in-depth 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report on the history of Pentecostalism in Africa.

In South Africa, the Pentecostal Apostolic Faith Mission is now as numerically strong as the Dutch Reformed Church – the traditional mainstay of the country's Protestantism, the Pew report stated. And in Zimbabwe, the Pentecostal Assemblies of God has almost as many adherents as the Catholic Church.

The largest Christian church in Ghana is the Church of Pentecost. The fastest growing denomination in Nairobi, Kenya, is the Assemblies of God. Also in Nigeria – Africa's most populous country – Pentecostals equal the combined numbers of its long dominant Catholic and Anglican churches.

"Pentecostalism's dramatic expansion has left almost no part of sub-Saharan Africa unaffected," stated the Pew Forum report.

The Vatican, in response, has expressed grave concerns about the rise of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism at the expense of Catholicism around the world, and admitted that the conversions are straining ecumenical relations, according to AP.