Angola, The Catholic Church in
ANGOLA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in southwestern Africa, the Republic of Angola borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly
Zaire) on the north and northwest, Zambia on the southeast, Namibia on the south and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. It also includes an exclave to the north of the Congo river that comprises Cabinda Province. Angola's coastal plains, marked by a semi-arid climate, rise sharp-ly to a vast plateau region in the east. The climate in the north ranges from cool and dry during the summer months to rainy and hot during the winter. The Congo serves as the northern boundary, and other rivers flow through the country to empty into the Atlantic. Agricultural products include coffee, corn, sisal, peanuts, cotton, sugarcane and timber from extensive forested areas, while hidden beneath the land surface are diamonds, iron ore, copper, bauxite and petroleum.
Once known as Portuguese West Africa, Angola ceased being a colony and became an oversees province of Portugal in 1951. African nationalist sentiment arose later in the decade and led to bitter fighting in 1961. Decades of civil war followed Angolan independence, leaving its economy in disarray and 75 percent of its population surviving by means of subsistence agriculture, despite the proliferation of land mines in farming areas. The average life expectancy for an Angolan is 38.1 years, and only 42 percent of the population is literate.
History. The Portuguese explored the coast beginning in 1483, bringing the first Catholic missionaries to the region in 1491. The first permanent settlement was at Luanda in 1575. As Portugal extended its rule over the region between 1575 and 1680, Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and a few secular priests, inaugurated effective Catholic missionary activity. While their efforts were seriously hampered by the slave trade, the region had about 20,000 Catholics in 1590. The Diocese of São Salvador was erected in 1596 and transferred to Luanda in 1676. Dutch Calvinists occupied the coastal area from 1641 to 1648; that region would provide large numbers of slaves for Brazil until 1875, when slavery was finally abolished.
In 1640, the Prefecture of the Congo was created and entrusted to Italian Capuchins, who labored in the interior of northern Angola. The mission was the most flourishing in Africa in the 17th and early 18th centuries; it then declined for a century. Portugal expelled the Jesuits in 1759 and suppressed all orders in 1834. From 1826 to 1852, the diocese was without a bishop.
Revival of Catholic influence in Angola began in 1866 with the arrival of French Holy Ghost Fathers. Despite difficulties between the Portuguese government and the French missionaries, the Prefecture Apostolic of Cimbebasia was created in 1879, whose jurisdiction extended over the southern half of Angola and included southwestern Africa. In the late 19th century, the boundaries of Angola were defined by diplomatic agreements with surrounding colonial governments, and the enclave of Cabinda annexed to Angola in 1886. Following a series of native uprisings from 1902–1907, Portuguese colonial authorities seriously hampered the mission, closing mission stations in 1910 and replacing them with lay missions based on the belief that missionaries were supporting pro-independence activities. Improvement in the Church's situation became noticeable after the arrival of Benedictines in 1933.
After a concordat between Portugal and the Holy See was signed in 1940, the Church grew in strength, its missions entrusted by the government with the responsibility for primary education. That same year Luanda became an archdiocese and metropolitan see for the country. The archbishop of Luanda administered the suffragan see comprising the islands of sÃo tomÉ and principe until it was transferred to the Holy See. Meanwhile, Protestant evangelical activity increased in Angola's interior.
Tensions between Portuguese military forces in the region and nationalist agitators erupted in 1961, resulting in over a decade of violence before Angola gained independence from Portugal on Nov. 11, 1975. Independence under the one-party Marxist regime of President Jose Eduarto Dos Santos prompted followers of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) to begin a civil war that would last into the next century. Meanwhile, under Marxist doctrine, Church schools and clinics were soon nationalized, Catholic leaders were persecuted, and most foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. Despite such actions, the government tolerated the practice of religion, and in 1978 created a registration of all "legitimate" religions, including Catholicism. Government policies relaxed in the 1980s, when it became apparent that religious leaders did not direct political opposition. In the wake of peace accords signed in 1991, missionaries were once again allowed into Angola's coastal region, and the Church became a major force for continued political stability. Fighting resumed following multi-part elections held under a revised constitution dated Aug. 26, 1992 that restored Dos Santos to power amid charges of election fraud. A second peace,
signed in 1994, failed to bring an end to the fighting, and Church leaders and lay members became the target of intermittent violence as the civil war continued. A third effort, in December 1998, also failed.
Into the 21st Century. During the 1990s the Angolan government continued to relax some of its policies toward religion, reinstating religious holidays and ending other atheistic policies. However, continued harassment from the government focused on Church leaders who criticized policies that harmed the social fabric of Angola, and in 1996 a German missionary was charged with subversion. In an effort to bring an end to the continuing violence, the Vatican established formal diplomatic relations with Angola in 1997, following a 1992 request by President Dos Santos. In 1999 Pope John Paul II spoke out against the war in Angola, and the Holy See called for all nations to suspend arms traffic to warring African
nations. Despite Vatican efforts, the fighting continued. On Jan. 6, 1999 Father Albino Saluhaku and two catechists were murdered in Huambo, while in July of 2000, 34 Catholics were abducted from the Swiss mission of Our Lady of La Salette in Dunde—they were later released by UNITA rebels. The kidnapping came on the first day of the Congress for Peace, a planned negotiating session organized by the Church in an attempt to bring the government and UNITA rebels together. In the spring of 2001, Catholic bishops offered to mediate a further effort at peace, with the Bishop of Uíe commenting, "I think there should be a cease-fire; that is the only way. It should be bilateral and simultaneous. And it is urgent."
By the year 2000, Angola contained 246 parishes, its faithful tended by 220 diocesan and 283 religious priests. Brothers working in the missions numbered 85, while 1,538 sisters attended to the country's educational, medical and other social welfare needs, including 177 primary and 55 secondary schools. A Catholic radio station, Radio Ecclesia, aired weekly Church services and other religious programming. Protestant denominations in Angola included Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists, while syncretic groups, animists and adherents to indigenous faiths were also active. As a result of the civil war, ten percent of the nation's population was living in refugee camps by 2001.
Bibliography: f. de almeida, História da Igreja em Portugal, v. 3 (Coimbra 1912). e. a. da silva correia, História de Angola, 2 v. (Lisbon 1940). j. alves correia, Les Missionnaires français en Angola (Lisbon 1940). g. lefebvre, Angola: Son Histoire, son économie (Liège 1947). m. de oliveira, História eclesiástica de Portugal (2d ed. Lisbon 1948). r. delgado, História de Angola, 3 v. (Benguela 1948–53). j. cuvelier and l. jadin, L'Ancien Congo, d'après les archives romaines, 1518–1640 (Brussels 1954). a. brÁsio, ed., Monumenta missionária africana, 8 v. (Lisbon 1952–55). b. j. wenzel, Portugal und der Heilige Stuhl (Lisbon 1958). r. pattee, Portugal na África centemporânea (Coimbra 1959), with full bibliog. j. duffy, Portuguese Africa (Cambridge, MA 1959); Portugal in Africa (Cambridge, MA 1962). a. da silva rego, Lições de missionologia (Estudos de ciéncias políticas e sociais 56; Lisbon 1961). a. mendes pedro, Anuário Católico do Ultramar Português (1960): Annuaire Catholique de l'Outre-Mer Portugais (ibid. 57; 1962). Bilan du Monde, 2:71–77. Centro de Estudos Políticos e Sociais, Lisbon. Missão para o Estudo da Missionologia Africana, Atlas missionário português (Lisbon 1962). Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses.