Christian Missions to Africa

Christianity became established in the Roman colonies of North Africa during the first centuries of the Christian era in the areas now known as Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. A particularly strong Christian presence developed in Egypt, with the city of Alexandria emerging as a leading center of Christian thought and life. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most significant Christian leaders and writers of all time, was based in this region.

Much of this Christian presence in Africa was swept away through the Arab invasions of the seventh century. Coptic Christianity survived in Egypt, although as a minor- ity faith. The situation began to change gradually during the later sixteenth century. Portuguese settlers occupied previously uninhabited islands off the west African coast, such as the Cape Verde Islands, establishing Catholicism in doing so. However, such offshore settlements had little impact on the mainland of Africa itself.

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Christian missionary involvement in Africa really began seriously in the nineteenth century, and came to be increasingly linked with the presence of colonial powers in the region – such as Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy. Catholic missionary work in Africa was generally carried out by religious orders, some of which had been founded for the specific purpose of evangelization in this region. For example, the Italian Comboni Missionaries were active in Sudan; the German Pallottines in Cameroon; the Missionary Benedictines in Tanzania; and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Austrian Trappists in South Africa. Some female religious orders became involved in missionary work, including the Sisters of Saint-Joseph of Cluny, founded in 1807 by Marie-Anne Javouhey.

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