Susan Onyedika was born 22 years ago into a Catholic family in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling commercial city. When she was a child, she took part in the Block Rosary Crusade (where an image of the Virgin Mary visits family homes), as well as catechism classes in her parish. But as she matured into a teenager she started having doubts about the faith she had practised from childhood. In her secondary school, she met Pentecostal Christians and began to compare their beliefs with those of Catholics.

“I needed more spiritually,” she tells me. “I needed to understand the Scriptures. They [the Catholic Church] don’t break down the Bible for you. They don’t pray the way most Pentecostals pray.

“I also had issues with praying through Mary because I feel that you can reach God directly, you can talk to him directly. You don’t have to go through someone to intercede for you.”

Susan joined her secondary school fellowship without telling her parents or siblings. “They didn’t know I joined the Pentecostals,” she remembers. “They were not aware. Just my close friends were.”

Her departure from the Catholic Church was gradual. “I had the opportunity of meeting with Pentecostals. From there my orientation about the Catholic Church changed. The prayers, the preaching differs,” she reflects.

With 186 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. The population is evenly distributed between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north. Of the roughly 80 million Christians, around 20 million are nominally Catholic. But many of the baptised are leaving the Church in their teens and twenties for Pentecostal denominations.

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