On a momentous day for the Catholic Church (and the whole world I would argue, but that might be more contentious) in which we have seen the election of the first successor of St Peter from the Americas, I thought it appropriate to bring some demographic news from the Catholic world. This piece from Northern Voices Online was written before today’s news so is a little dated. However, what is clear from the article is that the heartland of Catholicism in terms of practising members is no longer Europe, but is Africa and Latin America:
“When weekly Mass attendance is at an all-time low in Western Europe and the population of Catholics declined in the continent, in Africa their number grew from 55 million to 146 million between 1978 and 2007. Now the number has reached 176 million. Though the population increased in the natural process yet it is also true that the Church gained a large number of converts at the expense of Muslims and indigenous beliefs such as voodooism or animism, in which spirits are believed to inhabit objects in nature. However, Latin America has the largest concentration of Catholics. Forty-two per cent of world’s Catholics live there. Brazil has maximum number of Catholic population in the globe.”
In stark contrast, the number of European Catholics has declined and those that remain are less “religious” in terms of mass attendance:
“According to research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Spain only one in five Catholics go to a service once a week. In Germany, it is one in six, and fewer than one in 10 in France. Vatican statistics said Europe was the only region in the world to witness a decline in the number of Catholics between 1990 and 2010. During this period their global tally increased by nearly 30 per cent to 1.2 billion adherents. Thus Europe has now just 23.8 per cent of Catholic population of the world.”
This makes me think that perhaps in future centuries Europe will go the way of Africa, Egypt and Syria in becoming a past homeland of Catholicism. But instead of being replaced by the martial fervour of Islam, Catholicism in Europe is likely to be replaced by a morass of relativism, individualism, secularism and ultimately nihilism. It will be a real reversal to see the reverse-missionary effort as African and Latin American priests and missionaries arrive in the Old World to introduce it to Christ. (As an aside, this is already happening in New Zealand, many Filipino and Vietnamese, Indian and Korean priests are here trying to stop the steep slide into material paganism.) Finally a couple of interesting facts about the Church in Africa:
“Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast in West Africa, is one of the largest churches in the world––larger even than St Peter’s in the Vatican…The Roman Catholic Church provides half of the continent’s AIDS care…The Roman Catholic Church runs 55,000 schools and 20 universities in the continent that provide degrees for hundreds of thousands of Africans who would have otherwise little chance to get educated. This is because they provide free education and religious instruction. In several African nations, half of the population is Catholic and the Church is perhaps the biggest non-government aid agency…So if in Europe and the United States the Church’s stand on gay marriages, abortion, family values etc is being ridiculed, in Africa the situation is entirely different.”
But we in the enlightened West know that it’s just because Africa is so backward. Soon the light of our secular salvation shall reach that dark continent. When it does, Africa too will be able to bask in the joy of childless partnerships, material want and the pervasive sadness of the soul “lost in the Cosmos”. Good luck to Pope Francis – perhaps he will be able to start that re-evangelisation of Europe.