A period of despair?
Going on social media can be a gloomy time for Catholics. Whether it’s TikTok or FaceBook or some other site, non-Catholics in particular are blithely announcing the demise of Christianity as a whole or Catholicism in particular. Social media experts report that belief in God is declining in the United States (at 81% from 95% fifteen years ago). They also repeat the idea, unfortunately true, that American Catholics do not come to Mass. Perhaps 75% of Catholics do not attend Mass weekly or even three times a month. It does indeed look sad.
Not so fast – A moment of good news too
But here’s the good news. Catholicism is stronger than the religious problems of a country. Although we must resolve the rejection of the Eucharist by American Catholics and the difficulties of belief, Catholics can be encouraged by the fact that in other parts of the world Catholicism is very strong. Almost everyone forgets how big this religion is. That is why it is good from time to time to take a look at the situation of Catholics throughout the world. It will also help us predict the future of the Catholic faith.
Some facts for optimism
For starters, there were 291 million Catholics in the world in 1910. Today there are 1.34 billion. This is phenomenal growth. Catholics have always had a high birth rate, but missionary efforts in Africa and Asia over the past century have produced millions of converts multiplying into hundreds of millions of Catholics in these developing regions. The Catholicism of the last century has been mainly centered on the Euro and America. It changes quickly.
The top ten Catholic countries by population in 2019 are as follows:
- Brazil – 123,360,000
- Mexico – 100,000,000
- Philippines – 85,470,000
- United States – 69,300,000
- Italy – 50,474,000
- France – 39,000,000
- Colombia – 35,000,000
- Poland – 33,037,017
- Spain – 30,720,000
- Argentina – 28,770,000
- Congo (Democratic Republic) – 28,700,000
It still seems Euro-American centered, but that would be misleading. For example, the Pew Research Center states the following: “Rapid growth has occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, which today is home to approximately 171 million Catholics (16%), up from around 1 million (less than 1%) in 1910. There has also been rapid growth in the vast Asia-Pacific region, where 131 million Catholics (12%) now live, down from 14 million (5%) a century ago. This is phenomenal growth, and it bears mentioning that these young churches are vibrant, vibrant, dogmatically faithful, and a true inspiration to dying Catholicism in Europe and troubled faith in the United States.
So if we look globally, we can see that Catholicism is divided into these sections: (at the end of 2019), 48.1% of the world’s Catholics lived in the Americas, followed by Europe with 21.2%, l Africa with 18.7%, about 11% in Asia (all figures for Asia exclude China) and 0.8% in Oceania. Roughly 31% of Catholics live in developing countries. This has great consequences for Catholicism in the future, all positive.
Thoughts for the future
First, despite the decline of Catholicism in the West, the dynamism of faith in developing countries will spill over into older Catholic countries. It will be a reverse conversion of sorts. Second, Catholicism grew by 16 million members worldwide last year. He’s not going anywhere. Third, we should expect a pope from Africa or Asia in the near future. It will bring a new perspective on the faith and help Catholics see themselves as a universal religion and not just a nationalist one.
However, Western Catholics simply cannot give up. To be truly touched by the life-giving Catholic faith of Africa and the East, we must do our best to revive the Catholic faith in our own dioceses and parishes. This will keep us open to the movement of the Spirit in other areas of Catholicism. Full of dangers and setbacks, this period in which Catholics live represents a new beginning for the Church. It is most alive when it responds to the world around it, and most dead when it takes refuge behind its walls, refusing to dialogue with secularism. It remains to be seen how this will all turn out, but I put my faith in Christ who said he would always be with us until the end of time.