The Roman Catholic Vicariate Apostolic of the Congo
, the administrative region covering Catholic mission activity in the Congo
The Congo Basin is the sedimentary basin that is the drainage of the Congo River of west equatorial Africa. The basin begins in the highlands of the East African Rift system with input from the Chambeshi River, the Uele and Ubangi Rivers in the upper reaches and the Lualaba River draining wetlands...
area of Central Africa
Central Africa is a core region of the African continent which includes Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda....
, was by the end of the nineteenth century already fragmented.
The first vicar apostolic appointed for Congo was in 1518, and the intended territory was within modern northern Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...
Over a period of about eighty years, from 1880, the territory of the present Democratic Republic of Congo became divided into diocese
A diocese is the district or see under the supervision of a bishop. It is divided into parishes.An archdiocese is more significant than a diocese. An archdiocese is presided over by an archbishop whose see may have or had importance due to size or historical significance...
s with their bishops, with apostolic vicariate
An apostolic vicariate is a form of territorial jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church established in missionary regions and countries that do not have a diocese. It is essentially provisional, though it may last for a century or more...
s being the intermediate stage.
The evangelization of the Congo began as early as 1484, when Diogo Cam discovered the mouth of the Congo River
The Congo River is a river in Africa, and is the deepest river in the world, with measured depths in excess of . It is the second largest river in the world by volume of water discharged, though it has only one-fifth the volume of the world's largest river, the Amazon...
, known as Zaire until the seventeenth century. Cam's naval chaplain set himself at once to preach to the natives, and won to Christianity the chief of the Sogno, a village on the right bank of the Congo, where he first landed. Some of the inhabitants of this village accompanied Cam on his return voyage and were solemnly baptized at the court of John II of Portugal.
Later, the head chief of the Banza-Congo (Outeiro, the present San Salvador) asked King John for missionaries. Three were sent (whether they were Dominicans or Franciscans or members of a Lisbon chapter isn't known know); they finally baptized the head chief and many other subordinate ones at Banza-Congo, in a wooden structure called the Church of the Holy Cross. In 1518, a grandson of this chief, known as Henry, who had been ordained in Portugal, was made titular bishop of Utica, and appointed by Leo X Vicar Apostolic of Congo. He died before quitting Europe.
From the beginning the Portuguese undertook to introduce Portuguese customs in Congo. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, a native chief, Alvarez II, sent one of his relatives, a marquis, as his representative to the papal court. The ambassador arrived in Rome in a dying condition, and expired the day after his arrival, the eve of the Epiphany, 1608. Pope Paul V
-Theology:Paul met with Galileo Galilei in 1616 after Cardinal Bellarmine had, on his orders, warned Galileo not to hold or defend the heliocentric ideas of Copernicus. Whether there was also an order not to teach those ideas in any way has been a matter for controversy...
, who personally assisted the ambassador in his last moments, gave him a magnificent state funeral, and erected to his memory a monument at St. Mary Major's. Later, Pope Urban VIII
Pope Urban VIII , born Maffeo Barberini, was pope from 1623 to 1644. He was the last pope to expand the papal territory by force of arms, and was a prominent patron of the arts and reformer of Church missions...
had a mausoleum erected to him by Bernini; it still stands at the entrance to the choir of the basilica.
The Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites
The Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or Carmelites is a Catholic religious order perhaps founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmel, hence its name. However, historical records about its origin remain uncertain...
, and Jesuits were the first missionaries of the Congo. Their labours were trying, and rather fruitless. In the seventeenth century, the Jesuits had two colleges, one at Loanda
Loanda may mean:*Loanda, Paraná, a city in Brazil*Loanda, Gabon, a city in Gabon*Luanda, capital city of Angola *Loanda, a housing development in Newry, Northern Ireland...
, another, of minor importance, at San Salvador. On the whole, Christianity never took firm root, and was early brought into discredit by the slave-trading Portuguese. While the Portuguese always confined themselves to the Lower Congo, as early as the seventeenth century the missionaries had traversed the course of the Zaire, and a seventeenth-century map has been discovered which traces the river according to data supplied by them.
- 1640: The Prefecture Apostolic of Portuguese Congo is founded.
- The mission of the Upper Congo was begun in 1880; it was erected into the Vicariate Apostolic of Upper Congo in 1895.
- Vicariate Apostolic of Belgian Congo
- Vicariate Apostolic of French Congo
- Vicariate Apostolic of Congo Free State
- 1886: The Vicariate Apostolic of Loango
The Roman Catholic Vicariate Apostolic of Loango was a mission territory in Central Africa. It is now the Diocese of Pointe-Noire, in the Republic of the Congo.-History:...
(or French Congo, or Lower Congo) was detached from the Vicariate Apostolic of Gaboon.
- 1886: Mission created, in 1888 the Apostolic Vicariate of Léopoldville, from the Apostolic Prefecture of Lower Congo and the Apostolic Vicariate of Two Guineas.
- 1887: Apostolic Vicariate of Upper Congo was created from the Apostolic Vicariate of Tanganika
- The Vicariate Apostolic of Ubanghi (Upper French Congo) was created in 1890.
- 1892: The mission of Kwango is detached from the Vicariate Apostolic of Belgian Congo, and in 1903 becomes the Prefecture Apostolic of Kwango
The Roman Catholic Prefecture Apostolic of Kwango was a mission territory in Central Africa set up at the end of the nineteenth century.The Kwango River flows into the Kassai River, which itself is a tributary of the River Congo...
- 1901: The Prefecture Apostolic of Upper Kassai
The Roman Catholic Prefecture Apostolic of Upper Kassai was a mission territory in Central Africa. It was erected as a simple mission in 1901, and detached, as a prefecture Apostolic, from the Vicariate of Belgian Congo, on 20 August 1901....
is created from the Vicariate Apostolic of Belgian Congo.
- In 1909 the Prefecture Apostolic of Ubanghi-Chari was created from the Vicariate Apostolic of Ubanghi; it covered parts of what is now Chad
Chad , officially known as the Republic of Chad, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Libya to the north, Sudan to the east, the Central African Republic to the south, Cameroon and Nigeria to the southwest, and Niger to the west...
- The Katanga
Katanga Province is one of the provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, its official name was Shaba Province. Under the new constitution, the province was to be replaced by four smaller provinces by February 2009; this did not actually take place.Katanga's regional...
mission was separated from the Vicariate Apostolic of Belgian Congo in 1910. The Matadi
Matadi is the chief sea port of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the capital of the Bas-Congo province. It has a population of 245,862 . Matadi is situated on the left bank of the Congo River from the mouth and below the last navigable point before rapids make the river impassable for a...
mission likewise was separated in 1911. Also in 1911, the Prefecture Apostolic of Belgian Ubanghi was created from the Vicariate Apostolic of Belgian Congo.
- 1929: Apostolic Vicariate of Kivu created from the Apostolic Vicariate of Upper Congo
- 1952: Apostolic Vicariate of Kasongo created from the Apostolic Vicariate of Baudouinville and the Apostolic Vicariate of Kivu