Africans, the Catholic church and an unequal reward

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Twelve African cardinals will elect the next Pope. Benedict XVI last Wednesday promoted four Africans to the rank of Cardinal electors. The move is viewed as a sign of the vitality of Catholicism in Africa, even though the College of Cardinals at the Vatican is still heavily loaded with Europeans.

The Pope, last Wednesday, named 24 cardinals, bringing the number of electors in the College of Cardinals to 121. The African Catholic church now counts seventeen cardinals, twelve of whom are electors. The twelve will be called upon to choose Benedict XVI’s successor.

The new African cardinal electors include, Guinea’s Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, Archbishop of Kinshasa (DRC), Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop Emeritus of Lusaka (Zambia), Medardo Joseph Mazombwe, and the Patriarch of Alexandria (head of the Copts- Egypt) Antonios Naguib.

For Benedict XVI, the promotion reflects the universality of the Church and pays tribute to a continent which, according to the 2007 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the statistical directory of the worldwide Church, saw its Catholic population grow from 14 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2007.

According to Gianni Cardinale of Avvenire, a newspaper run by Italian bishops, whose remarks were reported by AFP , the move is a “recognition of the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa, both in the number of priests and believers.”

According to latest statistics released by the Vatican in April 2010, the number of baptized Catholics in the world has registered an increase of 11.54% from 1,045 million in 2000 to 1,166 million in 2008.

Africa has experienced the highest growth rate in terms of the number believers over the period between 2000 and 2008 with 33, 02%. The increase is about 30 times more than Europe, three times more than Oceania and America, and twice that of Asia.

In what concerns priests, the increase has been more spectacular. With less than 1% on average for the entire Catholic world, Africa alone recorded a colossal 33.1%. This record, according to analysts, demonstrates the important contribution of Africans to the Catholic church.

But observers believe that it is a vitality that is not rewarded for its value, given the meager number of African cardinals.

The great majority of electors at the College of Cardinals are Europeans, and mostly of Italian descent. There are 62 Europeans among the Cardinal electors of whom 25 are from Italy.

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