Catholic Archdiocese in Nigeria Celebrates Growth from Humble Beginning Under a Tree

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama posing with some Priests after the 40th anniversary Mass. Credit: Archdiocese of Abuja

The mammoth Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja as it is known today started humbly, with its small community of believers worshipping under a tree.

These days, the Archdiocese that is headquartered in the capital city of Nigeria not only boasts of advanced infrastructural development across the country’s capital territory where it has taken root, but also enjoys a big number of followers as opposed to when it was started decades ago.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama reminisced about the Archdiocese of Abuja’s humble beginnings, recognizing some of its founders who worked tirelessly to build the Metropolitan See from scratch.

“After forty years, what started as missio sui iuris (independent mission) has evolved to what is today the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja,” Archbishop Kaigama said during the celebration of the Archdiocese’s 40th anniversary on Saturday, November 6.

Mentioning Bishop Matthew Kukah, one of the founding Prelates of the Archdiocese, the Nigerian Archbishop added, “I believe that Fr. Kukah’s experience, such as starting a worshipping community under a tree in Abuja, has prepared him for his Episcopal ministry in Sokoto, a Diocese comprising four large States.”


Bishop Kukah of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Sokoto who obtained the registration of pioneering Parish churches and institutions in the Archdiocese of Abuja is on the list of the people who left an impact on the Archdiocese.

Bishop Kukah is said to have taken over the leadership of Abuja while he worked full time as the Director of Social Development for Kaduna Ecclesiastical Province, and National Secretary, Social Development Office in Lagos.

The Nigerian Bishop’s first residence before anything was built at the Archdiocese was a room that then Bishop Christopher Abba of Minna offered him at the Parish house in Suleja, a city north of Abuja.

In his November 6 address at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral of Abuja, Archbishop Kaigama lauded the efforts of the Archdiocese’s founders and other people who had, over the years, contributed to its growth, noting that his contribution was “a little block” to the foundations and pillars already in existence.

He acknowledged the late Dominic Ignatius Cardinal Ekandem who, from 6 November 1981, was charged with the responsibility as the first Ecclesiastical Superior of the newly created mission.

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The late Cardinal, Archbishop Kaigama noted, “saw the obvious need for sustained pastoral development in the Federal Capital Territory and with a burning zeal and foresight, established solid foundations.”

The Archbishop of Abuja said that the late Cardinal sought pastoral assistance from Dioceses and Religious Congregations, to establish structures that would eventually define Abuja ecclesiastical jurisdiction, building Parishes, the Pro-Cathedral, hospitals and schools such as Regina Pacis, Christ the King College, the Minor Seminary and orphanage, among others.

He said that today, the Archdiocese of Abuja has 79 Parishes, 23 chaplaincies and 51 pastoral areas.

The Archdiocese also boasts of a total of 323 Diocesan and Religious Priests and other Priests on secondary assignment in the Archdiocese, 380 Catholic Nuns, and 132 Major Seminarians, working in the Archdiocese.

“With… our Catholic population over 900,000 Catholics with vibrant youths, through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, we implore the Lord of providence to catapult our Archdiocese in the next forty years to more pastoral heights through our labour of love; to make us shining witnesses in our troubled nation, and at the end of our lives, to enable us see God face to face in heaven,” Archbishop Kaigama said.


The Nigerian Archbishop recognized the efforts of women and men Religious and members of the Clergy whose efforts to build the Archdiocese he said were notable.

“We deeply appreciate the Religious and the Diocesan Clergy who lent their support to the evangelization and infrastructural development of the jurisdiction from its infancy,” he said, and added, “Mention must be made of Society of African Missions (SMA), Holy Ghost Fathers (CSSp), St. Patrick’s Fathers (SPS), and Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, Holy Rosary Sisters, and Immaculate Heart Sisters, among others.”

“A dynamic lay faithful, both still living and those gone before us, contributed with great passion and dedicated service to the tremendous progress recorded thus far. A lot has been achieved and working together, a lot more can be achieved,” Archbishop Kaigama said November 6.

He also expressed his appreciation for John Cardinal Onaiyekan who became the Coadjutor Bishop, then Bishop, and subsequently, the Archbishop of Abuja, nine years after its establishment. The Cardinal, Archbishop Kaigama said, ordained many Priests, created many Parishes and provided many facilities.

Archbishop Kaigama who ascended to the helm of the Nigerian Archdiocese in 2019 said of his appointment to succeed John Cardinal Onaiyekan, “I humbly came by the grace of God, to add my little block to the huge foundations and pillars already in existence.”

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“With our creation of new pastoral areas, increasing and fortifying the commissions, the frequent meetings of the presbyteral council, pastoral council, church societies, and the annual General Assembly, we hope to consolidate on the achievements already recorded,” he said.

The 63-year-old Archbishop said that his efforts are to ensure that the marginalized feel included in the growth of the Church in Nigeria’s capital.

“We will intensify our services for more positive pastoral and spiritual impact on the many who come to Abuja in search of the Golden Fleece, and many in the ‘other Abuja’ in the periphery where ethnic groups of Gbagi, Koro, and Gwandara extraction live under poor economic and infrastructural conditions,” he said.

He expressed optimism that in decades to come, with Priestly sacrifice and a dedication to pastoral duties as well as the commitment of the lay people, the Archdiocese of Abuja will be “a home of communion, participation and mission” in the example of the ongoing Synod on Synodality that Pope Francis launched last month.

The Archbishop of Abuja acknowledged the potential of the Church in building a community where nobody feels left behind. He said that the Church can build a better society by herself, even where there is no support from the government.

“Like the body parts, each of us must contribute to our pastoral, educational, medical and other social services, in a society where people have come to identify the Church as a provider of social amenities, employment and relief to the poor even though she receives no government subventions as elected political leaders lavishly do,” Archbishop Kaigama said November 6.

He made an appeal to the Archdiocese’s pastoral agents, individuals and groups to redouble their effort and to contribute towards the evangelization drive by sponsoring modest church buildings, the purchase of land, and the building of Parish houses, especially in the 51 newly created pastoral areas.

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.