Malawi Marking 100 Years of Catholicism

De Montfort Missionaries Among the First Evangelizers

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LILONGWE, Malawi, JULY 27, 2001 ( The southern African nation of Malawi is celebrating the centenary of the Catholic Church´s presence.

To mark the occasion, Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will attend a ceremony Saturday as John Paul II´s special envoy.

Malawi was evangelized by de Montfort missionaries, who arrived in the country on July 25, the feast of St. James the Apostle, in 1901. Other early missionaries included the White Fathers, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, the Daughters of Wisdom, and the Marist Brothers.

The country, about the size of Pennsylvania, achieved independence in 1964. The Africanization of the hierarchy in Malawi began with Cornelius Chitsulo, the country´s first native priest. He became auxiliary bishop in 1956, and ordinary of Dedza in 1959. He was succeeded by James Chiona, auxiliary in 1965 and metropolitan of Blantyre in 1967.

The third bishop was Patrick Kalilombe of Lilongwe, the new capital, in 1972. He was a pioneer in the area of inculturation of ecclesial structures.

Following the country´s independence, there was a mass conversion of the Chewa people to Christianity, mostly to Catholicism. In 1970 there were 58,000 catechumens in the Diocese of Lilongwe, center of the Chewa region.

The Catholic laity began to have greater presence in public life, especially after 1980. In 1992, the Catholic Church achieved significant social leadership, when the bishops asked the government to respect human rights.

The appeal, however, led to the temporary arrest of Church leaders and the deportation of the missionary administrator of Mzuzu. Presbyterians supported the Catholic bishops´ appeal, giving birth to a new era of ecumenical relations.

Christians constitute 64.5% of Malawi´s 10 million inhabitants. Catholics alone make up 27.6% of the population, Muslims 16%. The rest are mostly animists.

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