The church in Nigeria.
The first Catholic contact with Nigeria was from chaplains who travelled with Portuguese explorers. The country’s evangelisation began in 1470 and was carried out from São Tomé. Three priests visited Benin City in 1515 where
they stayed there for two years. Previously the Oba of Benin had sent an ambassador to the royal court in Lisbon. São Tomé became a diocese in 1534 and its first Bishop was Augustinian Gaspar Cao in 1556. He sent the
first two Augustinian missionaries to Warri in 1577. They stayed in the town for a year and baptised the heir to the throne and established a Catholic dynasty which lasted for over two hundred years when they reverted to the traditional religion. Capuchins took overfrom the Augustinians in the 17th. century.
The Society for African Missions.
In 1862 Fr. F. Borghero, an Italian SMA (Society of African Missions) arrived in the Benin Republic and from there he visited Catholics in Lagos. Gradually the SMA and the Our Lady of the Apostles Sisters (OLA) established missions in Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan and Oyo. They evangelised in the area west of the Niger
River to the Volta River in Ghana. It was known as the SMA mission to Dahomey and became the Apostolic Vicariate of the Bight of Benin in 1870. The Dahomey Vicariate, later to be named Ouidah and then Cotonou,
was established in 1901. In 1943 the Vicariates of Asaba-Benin, Lagos, and Ondo-Ilorin,and the dioceses of Ondo-Ilorin and Benin City were created. Prefectures were also established in Oyo (1949) and Ibadan (1952). The first mission north of the Rivers Niger and Benue was established at Shendam (Plateau State) in 1907. The Prefecture of Northern Nigeria
was divided into the Prefectures of Kaduna and of Jos in 1934 and they became dioceses in 1954. The dioceses of Uotukpo (Makurdi) and Yola were established in 1959 and 1962 respectively and the hierarchy was established when Kaduna became an Archdiocese (1959).
The Holy Ghost Fathers
In 1885, the first French Holy Ghost Fathers
(CSSp), lead by Fr. Joseph Lutz, arrived in
Onitsha after travelling from Libreville. They
evangelised the area between the Niger and
Congo Rivers. Great results were eventually
reached amongst the Ibo people when Fr. Joseph
Shanahan became the Prefect Apostolic, in
1905, mainly through the mission schools which
he established. In 1889 Onitsha became the
Prefecture of Lower Niger, and then the the
Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Nigeria in
1920. In 1934 the area was divided between
the new Prefecture of Calabar and the Onitsha-
Owerri Vicariate and the Kiltegans (St Patrick’s
Society of Irish Kiltegan Fathers) took charge.
Further divisions took place in 1947-1948
with Calabar, Onitsha and Owerri becoming
separate Vicariates, and eventually dioceses
in 1950. The same year Onitsha became the metropolitan archdiocese and the hierarchy of Southern Nigeria was established.
The White Fathers
The first White Fathers arrived in Nigeria on the 11th. October, 1943, following a request from the Vatican. They worked with the SMA at Ibadan and they were initiated to the country during a six year apprenticeship. The White Fathers then moved to the present day Oyo Diocese and today they work at Agbowo, Awkwa and Ibadan.
Population: 155 million
Poverty index: 0.310%
Life expectancy: 47.56 years
Access to clean water: 58%
Adult literacy: 68%
GDP per head: $2,500 (2010 est.)
HIV/AIDS rates: 3.6% (2009 est.)
Infant mortality: 91.54/1,000 live births
Religions: Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, Indigenous 10%
The church today.
The ‘Delegation to West Central Africa’ was based in Lagos and on 23rd. September, 1960, Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli was appointed as the Apostolic Delegate. It covers Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Nigeria, and Ubangi Shari (later central Africa). During the civil war the Church became associated with the Biafran cause, mainly due to the fact that the majority of the population there were Christian. After the civil war ended many Catholic missionaries were expelled from Nigeria. Pope John Paul II has made two visit to Nigeria, the first was in February,1982, and the second,his 13th. to Africa, was in March, 1998. On the 22nd. March, 1988, he presided at a Mass for the beatification of Fr. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi at Onitsha. Fr. Tansi, an Ibo, was a parish priest and he did much work in trying to reconcile the ethnic and religious divisions in Nigeria. He retired to a Trappist Monastery in England where he died in 1964. Nigeria has the largest number of Catholics, and the most priests and religious vocations, of any African country. Its missionaries, including White Fathers, work all over the world.
Read full artical. A History of Nigeria