Catholics Around the World

The Catholic Church has a new leader, Pope Francis. The number of Catholics in the world is estimated to be about 1.2 billion today. That puts their number right between India’s and China’ population. We wonder: Which country boasts the largest Catholic community in the world?

A. United States
B. Philippines
C. Brazil
D. Democratic Republic of Congo

A. United States is not correct.

As of 2010, there were about 74.5 million Catholics in the United States, making it the fourth-largest Catholic country in the world. The United States has a larger Catholic population — by about 24 million — than Italy, which has been the home of the Pope for most of the Church’s 2,000-year history.

The United States has had a large influx of Catholic immigrants over the past 150 years, initially from Italy, Ireland and Poland. More recently, most Catholic immigrants have come from Latin America, the world’s most heavily Catholic region.

On a global basis, Italy, with its 50 million Catholics, has the world’s fifth-largest Catholic population. Neighboring France has the seventh-largest Catholic population (at almost 38 million), according to data compiled by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

B. Philippines is not correct.

The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia and the third-largest in the world. With almost 76 million faithful, it has slightly more members than the Catholic Church in the United States. As recently as 1970, there were barely 30 million practicing Catholics in the country.

Asia accounts for 12% of all Catholics worldwide. Over 81% of Filipinos are Catholic. By comparison, about 11% of all South Koreans are Catholic — and just over 6% of Vietnamese.

India’s Catholics account for only 0.9% of the country’s population. However, the country’s 10.6 million Catholics make up world’s 22nd-largest Catholic population. In China, 0.7% of the population are Catholics, or about nine million people.

Globally, about 16% of all people are Catholics. Catholics account for about 50% of the world’s nearly 2.2 billion Christians (37% are Protestants and about 12% are Orthodox).

Christianity itself is the world’s largest religion, ahead of Islam (1.6 billion adherents), Hinduism (up to one billion) and Buddhism (about 500 million).

C. Brazil is correct.

Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world, estimated at more than 133 million people as of 2010 — about 37 million more than second-ranked Mexico (with 96 million practitioners).

Overall, Latin America accounts for 39.5% of the world’s Catholic community. Pope Francis, formerly an Argentinian Cardinal, is giving new dynamism to the Catholic faith in the region. He has made it his mission to move the Church away from past pomp and circumstance — and refocus it on the core task of serving the poor and destitute.

There are challenges, though. In both Brazil and Mexico, Christianity’s Pentecostal and Evangelical movements have grown at Catholicism’s expensive in recent decades.

The rising attractiveness of these movements has actually the caused the percentage of Brazilians who identify as Catholics to fall from 74% in 2000 to 65% in 2010 — and to 62% today.

D. Democratic Republic of Congo is not correct.

The Democratic Republic of Congo — formerly Zaire — boasts the largest Catholic community in Africa, with about 31 million members. That is the 10th-largest Catholic community in the world.

Sub-Saharan Africa was home to just over 176 million Catholics in 2010, or about 16% of the world total. Europe still accounts for a larger share of the world total, at nearly 24%.

However, the number of Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa is set to rise considerably, as the region’s population is expected to double by 2040. This will undoubtedly increase these countries’ future influence in the Catholic Church. In contrast, population growth in traditionally Catholic nations such as Argentina, Poland and Spain has come to a near standstill.

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