The Kongo Kingdom and the Papacy

It is widely accepted that the majority- of Christians now live in the non-Western world. Yet it is surprising to discover that, in the seventeenth century, African Christians were already summoning the papacy to recognise a new shape of evil and to undertake new responsibilities overseas. Their problems and predicaments were even challenging Rome to reconsider the process of evangelisation and hence the nature of Christianity itself.

The condemnation by the Holy Office on March 20th, 1686, of the gravest abuses of the Atlantic slave trade was the most dramatic of these early initiatives. Thirty years previously, missionaries in Kongo had sent to Rome their first detailed accounts of domestic slavery in Africa. Like nearly all their contemporaries, both European and African, they accepted slavery as an established institution. In fact, the slaves with whose condition Rome was most conversant were the thousands of European captives held in the towns and galleys of North Africa.

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