It all starts on July 31, 1969, when the now canonised St Pope Paul VI became the first ever pontiff to set foot on African soil when he visited Uganda.
On his first day here, Pope Paul VI went to Rubaga Cathedral in Kampala and closed the just formed Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (Secam).
Secam is this week celebrating its golden jubilee, the very reason a big number of delegates from all over Africa, Europe and America are in Uganda, Secam’s birth place, for the celebrations.
The hundreds of delegates include high ranking cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and religious men and women.
Among them is the youngest Catholic Cardinal in the world, Dieudonne Cardinal Nzapalanga of the Central African Republic. Cardinal Nzapalanga is 52-years-old.
The golden jubilee festivities start today with an opening Holy Mass at Rubaga Cathedral and thereafter daily sessions at Speke Resort Munyonyo, and will end a week later with a concluding Mass at Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo.
Secam is a continental structure that takes place every three years, bringing together Catholic bishops from Africa to promote communion, collaboration and joint action in evangelism, human development, ecumenism [the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian Churches] and inter-religious dialogue, among others.
The main purpose for its formation is boosting missionary activities as expounded by the Second Vatican Council.
When launching Secam in Uganda in 1969, St Pope Paul VI stressed its importance while addressing African bishops at Rubaga Cathedral.
“By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves, which is commendable. The Church of Christ is well and truly planted on this blessed soil,” he said.
Fifty years later, Africa is considered to have the fastest growing Catholic population.
According to statistical yearbook released by the Vatican in 2017, whereas Latin America remained one area with the largest number of Catholics baptised globally (48.6 per cent), Catholics in Africa grew from 185 million in 2010 to more than 228 million in 2016.
Baptised Catholics in Africa continued growing at significantly faster rate than anywhere in the world.
The report says Catholic population in Africa has grown by 238 per cent since 1980, outstripping the growth in the number of priests, up to 131 per cent and of parishes up to 112 per cent.
A 2015 report by the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate. (CARA) indicated that Africa will continue to position itself as the future axis of Catholicism in the world.
At 171.48 million in 2010, Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa constituted about 16 per cent of World Catholics compared to just 1 per cent in 1910.
It was estimated that if the current trends in affiliation and differential fertility among religious groups continue, by 2040 Catholics in Africa will constitute 24 per cent.
It is justifiable because at the time St Pope Paul VI addressed African bishops in 1969, there were less than 150 of them and with just three cardinals; Laurent Rugambwa of Tanzania, Joseph Malula of Congo- Kinshasha and Sidarouss Stephanus of Egypt.
Today, Africa has a total of 26 living cardinals, out of which 16 are 80 years and below and thus anyone of them being eligible to be chosen as pope should need arise.
Of the world’s 219 cardinals, only 120 can at the moment enter the conclave to elect a pope.
In Africa these include Laurent Mosengwa Pasinya, 79 (Dr Congo), Gabriel Zubeir Wako, 78 (Sudan), Wilfred Fox Napier, 78 (South Africa) Maurice Piat, 78 (Mauritius), Jean Zerbo, 75 (Mali), John Onayeikan, 75 (Nigeria), Polycarp Pengo, 74 (Tanzania), John Njue, 75, (Kenya), Robert Sarah, 74 (Guinea), Jean Pierre Kutwa, 73 (Ivory Coast), Souraphiel Berhaneyesus, 71 (Ethiopia), Peter Appiah Turkson, 70 (Ghana), Arlindo Gomez Furtado, 69 (Cape Verde), Desire Tsarahazana, 65 (Madagascar), Deudonne Nzapalaiga, 52 (CAR) and Philippe Nakalientuba, 74 (Burkina Faso).
Above 80 years
The other 10 cardinals above 80 include Emmanuel Wamala, 92, Alexandre Jose Maria Santos, 95 (Mozambique), Alexandre Do Noscimento, 94 (Angola), Julio Duante Langa (Mozambique), Sebastian Khoarai (Lesotho), Christian Tumi, 88 (Cameroon), Francis Arinze, 86 (Nigeria), Antonios Naguib, 84 (Egypt) and Antonio Maria Okogie, 83 (Nigeria).
Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria was once regarded among the favourites to become pope after the death of John Paul II.
He once held a powerful post at the Vatican of prefect for the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of sacraments.
He is currently the longest serving African Cardinal having been elevated in 1985 by St Pope John Paul II.
Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana is serving at the Vatican as the prefect of dicastery for promoting integral human development in the Catholic church.
Before that, the Ghanaian for eight years held the post as president of the pontifical council for peace and justice. Robert Cardinal Sarah has since 2014 been at the Vatican prefect for the congregation for divine worship and the discipline of sacraments.
The youngest African cardinals are Dieudonne Nzapalainga of the Central African Republic (CAR) at 52, Desire Tsarahazana of Madagascar (65) and Arlindo Gomes Furtado of Cape Verde (69).
The oldest are Alexandre Jose Maria Santos of Mozambique at 95 followed by Alexandre do Nascimento of Angola (94) and Emmanuel Wamala of Uganda at 92.
Highest number. According to statistics the distribution of Catholics in Africa, DR Congo (29 million) which is 49 per cent of the country’s population, Nigeria at 17 million (14 per cent), Uganda 12 million (42 per cent), Tanzania 10 million (26per cent), Angola 10 million (50per cent), and Kenya 8 million (24 per cent).
Lowest number. The African countries with the lowest number of Catholics are Algeria at just 3,000 (0.1 per cent), Mauritania 4,000 (0.15per cent ), Djibouti 7,000 (1.26 per cent) Tunisia 20,000 (0.21 per cent).