Roman Catholicism in Somalia

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
The Mogadishu Cathedral, destroyed in 2008.

Roman Catholicism in Somalia refers to the presence of the Catholic faith in Somalia. The Roman Catholic Church in the country is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome.


There are very few Catholics in Somalia, with only about one hundred practitioners as of 2004.[1]

The whole of the country forms a single diocese, the Diocese of Mogadishu, created in 1927. During the pre-independence period after WWII, there were, at its post-colonial peak in 1950, 8,500 Catholics baptized in the Diocese of Mogadishu (0.7% of the nation's population), many of whom were sons of expatriate Italians.[1] Actually Catholics are not allowed to proselytise, especially to Muslims. Muslims who change their faith to Catholicism, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to death penalty. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her apostasy. In effect, they are practising Catholics, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Somali Catholics does not include Muslim apostates to Catholic Christianity.


Catholicism was introduced in Italian Somaliland in the late 19th century.[2] Initially, it was only practiced by the few Italian immigrants in Mogadishu and the Shebelle River farmer areas. However, after World War I, many Bantus, the descendants of former slaves, became Catholics. They were principally concentrated in the Villaggio Duca degli Abruzzi and Genale plantations.[3]

In 1895, the first 45 Bantu slaves were freed by the Italian colonial authorities under the administration of the chartered Catholic company Filonardi. The former were later converted to Catholicism. Massive emancipation and conversion of slaves in Somalia[4] only began after the anti-slavery activist Father Robecchi Bricchetti informed the Italian public about the local slave trade and the indifferent attitude of the Italian colonial government toward it.[5]

After obtaining Jubaland from the British in 1925, the Italian colonial administration gave land (mainly in the Genale area) to Italian settlers for the production of cash crops that would then be exported to Italy. Requiring labor to work these plantations, the Italian authorities attempted to recruit Bantu ex-slaves, singling out the latter community for this purpose. However, the Italians soon also had to resort to forced labor (essentially conscription) when they found that volunteers, many of whom found it more profitable to work as free yeoman, were not forthcoming.[6] This forced labor came from the Bantu populations that were settled along the Shebelle River, and not from the nomadic Somalis.[7] Indeed slavery in all southern Somalia lasted until the early 1910s, when it was finally abolished officially by the Italian authorities in accordance with the Belgium protocol and with the Diocese of Mogadishu.

Judith Listowel summarized Roman Catholic entry to Somalia:

In 1903 the Trinitarian Fathers were the first missionaries to arrive in what was to become Somalia. They started teaching and providing social assistance to the poor and the sick. Fr. Jelib set up a leper colony at the mouth of the Juba river, and cared for about 350 to 400 lepers. In 1924 the Consolata Fathers and Sisters (from Turin) arrived; the Fathers to be replaced in the 1930s by the Franciscan Friars Minor from the Milan Province

In 1928, a Catholic cathedral was built in Mogadishu by order of Cesare Maria De Vecchi, a catholic governor of "Somalia italiana" who promoted the "Missionari della Consolata" christianization of Somalian people.[8] The cathedral, the biggest in Africa in the 1920s and 1930s, was later destroyed during the civil war of the 1990s.

The Bishop of Mogadishu, Franco Filippini, declared in 1940 that there were about 40,000 Somali Catholics due to the work of missionaries in the rural regions of Juba and Shebelle, but WWII damaged in an irreversibly way most of the catholic missions in Italian Somalia.[9] Most were somali Bantu,[10] but some thousands were illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and somalian girls (who received Italian citizenship when baptized).

In the 1950s Indro Montanelli wrote on Il Borghese that Italian Mogadishu in 1942 after the arrival of the British was an African capital where most of inhabitants were Catholics: he indicated that of the 90,000 inhabitants more than 40,000 were Italians, while inside the 50,000 Somalis there were nearly 7,000 Catholics (including the many illegitimate sons of Italian soldiers and Somalis native girls, who were baptized in order to get Italian identification). This was meaning to him that nearly 3 out of 5 Mogadiscio inhabitants were Catholics).[11]

Since the end of the colonial period and the departure of the Italians, Catholicism has experienced a nearly complete disappearance in Somalia,[12] with the Diocese of Mogadishu estimating that there were only 100 Catholics in Somalia in 2004, down from 8,500 practitioners in 1950 during the height of the colonial period after WWII.[1]

The last Bishop of Mogadishu, Salvatore Colombo, was murdered in 1989.[13] This was followed by the murder of an Italian nun, Leonella Sgorbati, in 2006, and the desecration of Christian graves.[14]


The statistics for Catholicism in Somalia after WWII are the following:

Year Population Priests Deacons Religious Parishes
  baptised total % number secular regular baptised
per priest
  men women  
1950 8.500 1.200.000 0,7 16 16 531 20 140 11
1970 2.623 3.000.000 0,1 18 18 145 25 94
1980 2.100 3.540.000 0,1 6 6 350 8 68 2
1990 2.000 4.810.000 0,0 5 1 4 400 5 48 4
1999 100 6.500.000 0,0 1 1 100 2 3 1
2000 100 6.500.000 0,0 2 1 1 50 2 3 1
2003 100 6.500.000 0,0 1 1 100 1 3
2004 100 6.500.000 0,0 1 1 100 4 1
2007 100 7.815.000 0,0 1 1 100 4 1
2013 100 8.894.000 0,0 - - - - -

Note that the statistics are related only to those who were "baptized", meaning that Catholics baptized in Italy (as were most of the Italians resident in Somalia) were not calculated.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Catholic Church in Somalia
  2. Gresleri, G. Mogadiscio ed il Paese dei Somali: una identita negata. p. 45
  3. Gresleri, G. Mogadiscio ed il Paese dei Somali: una identita negata. p.71
  4. Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. p. 65
  5. History of Somali Bantu
  6. Catherine Lowe Besteman, Unraveling Somalia: Race, Class, and the Legacy of Slavery, (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1999), pp. 87-88
  7. David D. Laitin, Politics, Language, and Thought: The Somali Experience, (University Of Chicago Press: 1977), p.64
  8. The catholic missionaries of "Consolata" promoted by governor De Vecchi (in Italian)
  9. Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. p. 66
  10. Photo of Somali Bantu with a Missionary of the "Consolata" in 1937
  11. Montanelli wrote in the first Borghese editions; John Francis Lane. "Obituary: Indro Montanelli". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Gresleri, G. Mogadiscio ed il Paese dei Somali: una identita negata. p.96
  13. The murder of Bishop Colombo
  14. Widespread desecration of Christian graves in Somalia


  • Gresleri, G. Mogadiscio ed il Paese dei Somali: una identita negata. Marsilio editori. Venezia, 1993
  • Tripodi, Paolo. The Colonial Legacy in Somalia. St. Martin's Press. New York, 1999.

External links