YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, the Vatican representative in Kenya, blames the receding Church in Europe on the continent’s move towards secularism, noting that ‘the teachings of Western society on abortion, euthanasia, gender theory, are clear symptoms of a society that has lost its inner compass and is helplessly floating on the tempestuous sea of human desires, shaken and weakened in every respect.”

The archbishop made the determination on May 25 during the episcopal consecration of Bishop John Kiplimo Lelei, the new auxiliary of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret.

“It is evident for everybody to see how the West, a secular society, has lost its vigor and is evermore self-absorbed,” the papal nuncio said.

He said the Western society is not more the light for the nations; rather, it puts “its lamp under the bushel, its light ever dimmer.”

By contrast, van Megen said the Church in Africa is “growing stronger.”

And the numbers are there to back this up. According to Vatican statistics, while the number of Catholics continued to decline in Europe, Africa recorded the highest growth in its Catholic population in 2021. The continent added 8.3 million more people to its Catholic population. Globally, the number of Catholics increased by 16.2 million people, totaling 1,375,852,000.

Africa’s 236 million Catholics make up roughly 20 percent of the global Catholic population. By 2050, the World Christian Database estimates that African Catholics will make up 32 percent of the Catholic Church.

Father Stan Chu Ilo, a research professor of World Christianity and African Studies at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University, told Crux that Africa has become the face of the Church.

“It is good news that the number of Catholics is growing in Africa,” Chu Ilo said.

“This is a great source of joy and hope for us as Africans and for the Catholic Church and Christianity. Africa is not simply the future of the Catholic Church; it is now the face of Christianity given this Catholic population bulge,” he explained.

“Gradually, one can say actually that the faith is also growing not only in number but also in influence in Africa and outside Africa in the areas of Catholic education, healthcare, spirituality and social justice outreach. Outside the continent of Africa, there are a significant number of Catholic priests and religious who are missionaries in other parts of the world mainly in Europe and North America, but also in Asia to a smaller extent. Catholics in Africa are beginning to reinvent Catholicism in their own unique celebration of the sacred liturgies, in art and music, as well as theological production and creativity,” the priest added.

Chu Ilo cautioned against simplistic interpretations of the numbers. While overall African population growth contributes to the increased proportion of African Catholics in world Catholicism, it’s essential to differentiate between numerical expansion and genuine conversions.

Are people truly embracing Catholicism, or are they merely part of a larger population trend?

“The increased proportion of African Catholics in world Catholicism may be because of actual growth in African population, or in declining population in North America and Europe and elsewhere in the world, or a combination of other factors. Furthermore, this demographic prognosis is predicated on a continuation of current sociological trends,” Chu Ilo told Crux.

In his speech in Kenya, van Megen made the case for sticking with Jesus’s teachings as a way of continually growing the Church and strengthening the faith.

“The teachings of Christ are indispensable; they are the only acceptable measure for all human beings, like the compass is the only reliable and indispensable instrument for a captain, finding his way through the dark and tumultuous seas,” the archbishop said.

The nuncio compared a bishop to the captain of a ship who “sails the ship of the Church through the choppy waters of our times.”

“Dear Father John [Kiplimo Lelei] you will be criticized in many ways, and people will try to destroy you for the simple reason that you are upholding the teachings of Christ,” he told the new bishop.

“On the rock of Christ our pride is crushed, our vanity revealed. People find that hard to accept,” the nuncio said. “People speak a lot about humility but very few people are able to live it. The teachings of Christ are for many a stumbling block instead of a light for the nations.”

Van Megen called on the new bishop to think of the history of “holiness” with the understanding that like Christ, he would also face temptation.

“However, Christ was without sin, while none of us can claim to throw the first stone,” he said.

“Recall your own sinfulness, so as to show mercy with the sheep who run away from the flock. Bind their wounds and carry them on your shoulders,” he advised.