Archbishop of Freetown Lauds Steady Growth of Catholic Church in Sierra Leone

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of the Archdiocese of Freetown during the interview with ACI Africa at his office in Freetown. Credit: Caritas Freetown

The Catholic Church in Sierra Leone is gradually moving towards a “locally-led” Church, the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Freetown has said, acknowledging the steady growth of Parishes in the West African nation where the biggest percentage of believers are Muslims.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles lauded the Laity in the country for being more willing to participate in the development projects of the Church, even as Africa continues to adjust to the decreasing financial support from outside.

“We are gradually moving from the traditional missionary-led Church to have our own local missionaries. The Laity is actively participating in the growth of the Church. We see Catholics approaching their Bishops every day, asking how they can be of help to grow the Church. Many of them are participating in the formation of our Priests. This is very encouraging,” Archbishop Tamba said during the November 7 interview.

The Catholic Archbishop noted that the Church in Sierra Leone is also forming missionaries who are being sent to evangelize outside the country.

He said that the Archdiocese of Freetown, which had split from Freetown and Bo in 2011, taking with it only 10 out of the 29 Parishes, has birthed other Catholic communities, which he said will soon be elevated to Parishes.


“We used to have 29 Parishes when I was Archbishop of Freetown and Bo. But when we split, we left 19 Parishes comprising the entire Southern province to Bo. The 10 Parishes we had have since grown and earlier this year, we elevated seven communities to quasi-parishes. Soon, we shall have seven new Parishes,” he said, adding that the Archdiocese also has two new Chaplaincies as the number of Catholics continues to grow in Freetown.

In the interview with ACI Africa, the Archbishop spoke broadly about various issues, including the outstanding religious cohesion in Sierra Leone amid increasing religious extremism in a number of other West African countries.

The Sierra Leonean Catholic Church leader who started his Episcopal Ministry in March 2008 as Archbishop of then Freetown and Bo also recounted his experience with the country’s worst civil war, and the role that the Church played to end the fighting that had lasted for 11 years, causing a lot of devastation in the country. He also spoke broadly about the role of the Church in the country’s forthcoming elections.

Concerning the interreligious co-existence in Sierra Leone, Archbishop Tamba who also serves as the President of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) said, “We live very peacefully; Christians and Muslims and other religions. All we do is work together to find ways of developing Sierra Leone and making it a better place for everyone.”

The Sierra Leonean government estimates that 77 percent of the population is Muslim, and 21.9 percent is Christian.

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“Many individuals regularly blend Christian and Islamic practices with animism in their private and public worship,” the Sierra Leone 2019 International Religious Freedom Report indicates in part, adding that other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Baha’is, Hindus, Jews, atheists, and practitioners of voodoo and sorcery.

In the interview with ACI Africa at his office in Freetown, Archbishop Tamba shared his experience with the civil war that started in 1991 just as he left for Rome to pursue a Licentiate and later a Doctorate degree in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

It is from Rome that he received the news of the death of his grandmother who the rebels shot in her bed as she was sleeping.

“My grandmother was killed alongside 39 other people and she never received a proper burial,” he told ACI Africa during the November 7 interview, adding that he came back to Sierra Leone in 1996, at the climax of the civil war.

“It was bad,” he said, recalling the war, and added, “I remember there was a day we were hiding in bushes when the rebels came and took away my computer. It was a Toshiba Satellite series and it had a thesis I had worked on. That day, I lost an opportunity to publish a book which I had wanted to name ‘Theology of Enculturation’. The book would have answered all the questions I had during my Theology studies.”


The Local Ordinary of Freetown expressed regret that Sierra Leoneans never received “psychosocial support” even as the country journeyed through a healing process in the years that followed the war.

“The one area that was overlooked was the psychosocial support and now, we have young people, middle aged men who appear to have moved on, are working in offices yet they remain wounded,” the 66-year-old Catholic Archbishop said.

He added, “The wounds from the civil war were intensified by Ebola in 2014. And now, we have people who are aggravated by the slightest thing. You ask someone to give you space to pass on the road and they go lashing out profanities at you. It is like they are always waiting for an opportunity to burst out.”

“No one paid attention to the trauma healing, which our people so desperately needed,” Archbishop Tamba told ACI Africa.

He continued, “The focus was on infrastructural rehabilitation because the destruction of buildings was visible. The psychological destruction was not visible and so, the development organizations would come, put up new structures. They thought that with the structural rehabilitation, everything was back to order. But from what we see now, it is clear that people have remained wounded.”

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The Catholic Church leader said that IRCSL especially is concerned that a drug “Kush” has found its way to the Sierra Leonean streets and that it is destroying young people’s lives.

“Last year, we had a drug that was called Tramadol. We have also had one called Relief, and now we have Kush. These things are destroying the lives of our young people. As the Inter-religious Council, we are appealing to the ministry of youth to put in place an organized way of dealing with this challenge. We need to find out who is behind this substance called Kush and who is benefitting from it,” Archbishop Tamba told ACI Africa during the November 7 interview. 

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.