The advent of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is linked to the great kingdom of Kongo whose space is shared between the present day DRC, Angola and Congo-Brazzaville.
The Portuguese navigator Diego Cao was the first to mention the existence of this kingdom which controlled trade in the region. Upon his arrival in 1483, the kingdom was already at its zenith thanks to yam production and the exchange of hoe and weapon against ivory with the people of inland Angola.
The same year, Diego Cao visited King Nzinga Nkuvu in Mbanza-Kongo the capital. The King established later on diplomatic relations between his kingdom and Portugal.
At the same time, Catholic missionaries arrived in the region in 1490. And the following year, King Nzinga Nkuvu was baptized and took the name Ndo Nzuawu (Don Joâo or Don John).
According to historians, Ignatius of Loyola (founder and first Superior General of the Society of Jesus) sent, by the request of the Portuguese king, some Jesuit missionaries to the Kongo Kingdom in 1548.
They opened a school which quickly registered 600 students, said Father François Bontinck, a Belgian historian specializing on Congo.
After the death of King Nzinga Nkuvu, Mvemba Nzinga his son became king in place of his murdered brother Mpanzu Nzinga.
With the baptismal name of Afonso (changed into Ndofunsu), he was largely influenced by missionary mentoring from his childhood.
King Nzinga Mvemba sent his son Don Henrique Lukeni lua Nzinga to Portugal. The latter became the first African bishop in the history of the Catholic Church, with spreading Christianity in his country in mind.
The capital of the kingdom, Mbanza-Kongo (currently in northern Angola) was thus renamed Sao Salvador (Saint Sauveur). Several people were influenced by their names: Some took the name of Don Dominique or Don Miguel (changed into Ndomingiedi), other Don Sebastian or Don Sebastião (Ndombasi), Don Emmanuel (Ndomanueno).
This influence, which started in the 15th century, was mainly in western DRC.
The second and greatest wave of missionary arrivals started in the 19th century after the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) which allowed Belgium to carve out an empire in central Africa, including a great part of the ancient kingdom of Congo.
DRC was rapidly Christianised thanks to the Belgian colonization (1885-1960).
In 1980, Pope John Paul II went to DRC (then Zaire), the largest Catholic country in Africa, for his first visit on the continent.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II returned for a second visit to the country, during which he beatified Anuarité, a nun murdered in 1964 in north-east of the country by the rebellion for refusing to have sexual intercourse with a rebel leader.
Today, over 26 million out of 60 million inhabitants in DRC are Catholics, statistics of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) revealed.