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Catholicism-A Gift from Imperialism


Frances Madu

Before the advent of the Europeans in the 15th century, Africans had their ways of life, with different cultural, political, social, and economic interactions. Societies with large kingdoms and straggling villages are headed and controlled by chiefs and elders. They were predominantly farmers, traders, who engaged in craft and lucrative jobs, while some tended herds of animals. African lives centered on family and clans, who believe in their god and goddesses, ritual, and divination.

The quest to explore the world and exploit natural resources brought the Europeans on the shores of Africa, which was pioneered by the Portuguese and under the control of Henry the navigator (https://en, A geographic region endowed with natural resources with untapped and undeveloped economies, which are ripe for exploitation, aroused the interest of the Europeans to expand their spheres of influence across Africa. This gave birth to ‘NEW IMPERIALISM’.

IMPERIALISM is the practice of expanding power or dominion through direct territorial possession and acquiring political and economic control of another region. The existence of new imperialism from 1800 through the 1900s brought economic, military, political humanitarian and religious ideologies to the Africans which they felt was due for exploitation and colonization.

Africa was considered an inferior race, apparently uncivilized people, with no organized way of life, and no capability of ruling themselves, has stood as a world of savages, slaves, and barbarians for over 5000 years with no hope of civilization. The imperialist viewed it as their duty to take this burden to save the souls of Africans (Refer to Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘WHITE MAN’S BURDEN’, published in 1899 in McClure’s Magazine). Rudyard Kipling asserts that Africans need to be exposed to light, to destroy their savaged way of life, characterized by witchcraft and heathenism. He urged the Europeans to take it as a moral obligation to civil the uncivilized.

Christianity became the moral justification to diffuse Christian doctrine to the Africans, which they believed was considerably lower to that of the Western culture (Fage, 1995). Christianity emanated in the early 1st century, through the teaching of ‘MARK THE EVANGELIST’, a Hebrew disciple of Jesus Christ of Nazarene, in Alexandria, Egypt. In the 15th century, the Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal brought Catholicism to Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country in West Africa, the most populous in the continent, diverse in culture, and abundant natural resources. Through the coming of the Holy Ghost priest and St Patrick Society, Catholicism was born in Nigeria. The first archdiocese was established in Kaduna, Lagos, and Onitsha in 1950 (Weate, 2019). Catholic Church in Nigeria grew and became involved in Education and Humanitarian activities. Catholic schools and hospitals became increasingly popular thus adding to their credit the world’s largest catholic seminary, Bigard Memorial, in Enugu, South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The involvement of the Catholic Church in the civil war between the Biafra Igbo and the Nigeria federal force from 1967-1970 cannot be overemphasized, with over half of the Catholic mission located in the eastern part of the country supported immensely through relief aid and charitable works by Catholic lay organizations such as St. Anthony Guild, St Jude Society, the Legion of Mary and Block Rosary crusade. These societies bridged the communication gap between the church and the indigenous religious worshipers, by which the concepts and traditions of the culture were accepted within Catholicism.

The conversion of diverse Igbo tribe is considered as one of the greatest changes in the history of the Church in Africa (Isichei, 1976; Hale: 2006). The Igbo speaking parts of Nigeria are in Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, and across the River Niger, with an estimation of 30 million people in 2017 (Ezeokeke, 2018). The Igbos are extremely religious people, who loved their beliefs and tradition: ‘Chukwu’ (God), and ‘mmuo’ (deity and spirit forces) were expressed as supreme beings and their creators. The Catholic Church celebrates her 134 years of existence in Nigeria, whereas the indigenous people of Abor celebrate their Centenary year of the existence of the Catholic Church in Abor. Today, there are many daughters and sons as clergies, with missionary schools, churches, and medical centers, which the Abor community has gained as dividends of imperialism. We pray that this Centenary of the Church being celebrated in the community will usher in many more dividends of Catholicism in the community.


Ezeokeke C. (2018). The identity of the Catholic Church in the Igbo land. Nigeria.

Fage, J. (1995). History of Africa, third edition. London. 11 new fetter lane.

Isichei. E. (1976). The history of the Igbo people. London: Macmillan press.

Kipling R. (1899). The White Man’s Burden. McClure’s Magazine (1893-1926).

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Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Retrieved from

 https://en,wikipedia/wiki/European_explanation of Africa

Weate, J. (2019). Catholicism in Nigeria. The religious literacy project. Harvard Divinity School.

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