Religious Sects a Challenge to Catholicism in Africa, Church Leaders Testify

Religious Sects an issue of Interest to Christian Churches in Africa today
Credit: Public Domain

While Africa is seen to gradually and steadily become the axis of global Catholicism, the mushrooming of religious sects on the continent seems to be posing threats to the process of evangelization, Catholic Church leaders from various regions of Africa who have been in Nairobi for meetings have told ACI Africa.

“One of the challenges facing the Catholic Church in our region (West Africa) is evangelical churches coming in thousands trying to sway away our membership,” the Secretary General of the Inter-territorial Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Gambia and Sierra Leone (ITCABIC), Fr. Paul Morana Sandi told ACI Africa in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

The alarming rate at which sects are attracting Catholics in Sierra Leone and the Gambia has warranted a national as well as regional discussion among church leaders in the region, the Sierra Leonean cleric said during the interview.

“We have discussed it (sects) at higher quarters at the conference level and also at the level of Anglophone West Africa where we had a meeting to discuss and see how these new forms of Christianity can help in a way to bring back to us an awareness so that we can respond adequately,” Fr. Sandi said. 

A similar challenge is being witnessed in southern Africa nation of Zambia, as confirmed by Archbishop Ignatius Chama of Kasama Diocese who spoke about the sudden departure of Catholics for religious sects.

“It’s truly an issue, there are many sects coming up as well as different churches,” Archbishop Chama who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Zambia’s Mpika diocese told ACI Africa and added, “In my Archdiocese (Kasama), we call them evangelicals and pentecostals, which are coming up. Today you pass by a place with no church and tomorrow there are people congregating with loud speakers.”

In the East African country of Tanzania where a quarter of the national population is Catholic, the mushrooming of sects is also regarded a major challenge, Archbishop Paul Runangaza Ruzoka of Tabora Archdiocese shared with ACI Africa.

“There is the whole issue of many Christian sects in the country ranging from pentecostals and the like and these are quite divisive in the sense that people will think that when you say you are Christians then the Christians speak the same language, may be they behave the same way, which is not the case when it comes to these sects, which are quite enormous in the growing up,” Archbishop Ruzoka narrated about the challenge of Christian sects in his country, which  celebrated 150 years of Catholicism last year.

Responding to the question of what might be attracting Catholics to join the Christian sects in various regions of Africa, the religious leaders see a combination of factors, but note the temporary nature of the defections.

“Some go to all these different churches because in their families, somebody has gone and they follow. Others it is actually for curiosity sake and these are the ones who come back and tell you there is nothing there,” Archbishop Chama who chairs the Pastoral Commission under the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) told ACI Africa.

The Zambian Prelate who thinks the people’s thirst for specific message could be a contributing factor suggests seeking to give Catholic congregations relevant messages.

“It could also be that the message we are giving at a certain time does not touch the core being of this individual who then goes out in search hoping to satisfy themselves with what is going on in the other church,” the Archbishop stated.

For Fr. Sandi of ITCABIC, one of the reasons those who have left the Catholic Church to join sects “say is that there is no fire in the Church (Catholic) but I don't really understand that; maybe the dancing style, charismatic way of expression, singing.”

He added, “I do not think it is really a doctrine; it is more of human beings wanting to try out something new.”

On what could be done to mitigate the trend, Fr. Sandi suggests a more supportive approach towards the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church, a move, he thinks, could go a long way in quenching the “pentecostal” desire of some Catholics.

He suggests that the Church looks “at the Charismatic Movement as the “new Pentecostal” in the Church and to see if (the movement) can lend more credence and give more support to that form of worship which seems to attract especially the young people.”

“It is not strange, only that some prefer the old style but we are open to others who may want to feel the new spirit blowing in the Church, and it is good for diversity,” Fr. Sandi said referencing to ways of reconciling different ways of worshiping and giving praise to God in the Church.

In Tanzania, the Catholic Church is employing ecumenical dialogue and interfaith cooperation, which has given birth to the Christian Social Service Commission and the Interfaith Committee for Economic Justice and the Integrity of Creation, bodies that have been instrumental in mitigating the challenge of sects.

While the Commission, which comprises of the Catholic Church, Lutherans, Anglicans and the Arabian churches “offers social services in common, from the same board in line with education and health services,” Archbishop Paul Ruzoka told ACI Africa that the Interfaith Committee comprising Catholics, Protestants and Muslims has been instrumental in “creating harmony in the society and addressing issues, which are common to everybody.”

On his part, the Chairman of AMECEA Executive Board, Bishop Charles Kasonde of Solwezi, Zambia, has termed the exodus to Christian sects as “regrettable” and attributed the phenomenon to the freedom of religion enshrined in contemporary national constitutions.

Bishop Kasonde who has been in Nairobi for meetings and is expected preside over the graduation at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) on Friday, October 25 encouraged continued evangelizations saying, “We do want to remain complacent, we want to continue sharpening all efforts of evangelization so that we make Christ known to the people.”


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]