In spite of what the media might want us to believe, the Catholic Church is alive and well in spite of the rise of secularism, doubling in size in the last three decades and expected to increase by another 400 million by 2050.
In an article appearing in the Catholic Herald, renowned American historian, Philip Jenkins, reports that the number of Catholics has doubled since the 1970’s – from 650 million in 1970 to 1.2 billion today.
“ . . . [A]nd that change has occurred during all the recent controversies and crises within the Church, all the debates following Vatican II and all the claims about the rise of secularism,” Jenkins writes.
He went on to cite several areas of rapid growth of Catholicism such as Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines. For example, there were more baptisms in the Philippines last year than the sum total of all baptisms that took place in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.
The continent of Africa is another good example. In the twentieth century, the number of Catholics on the continent increased from two million in 1900 to 200 million today. And there are no signs of a slow-down anytime soon. In fact, Jenkins believes the number of African Catholics may double yet again by 2040 and reach as high as 460 million.
If that occurs, which seems likely, “This number would be larger than the total world population of Catholics in 1950,” he said.
“Already by about 2030, we will cross a historic milestone when the number of Catholics in Africa will exceed the number for Europe. A few years after that, Africa will overtake Latin America to claim the title of the most Catholic continent.”
In just one generation, the list of the top 10 countries with the largest Catholic populations will include several names where Catholicism was virtually new in 1900, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But we don’t need to go to these faraway places to see the Church growing, Jenkins says. This is because people from these countries are immigrating to Europe and America and bringing the faith with them, which is why we see increasing numbers of African and Asian priests in our parishes.
“When we consider those African statistics alone, any suggestion of the Catholic Church ‘dying’ or even stagnating is so wildly inaccurate as to be comical.”
Jenkins concludes with a quote from Mark Twain who once said: “In this world we have seen the Roman Catholic power dying … for many centuries. Many a time we have gotten all ready for the funeral and found it postponed again, on account of the weather or something … Apparently one of the most uncertain things in the world is the funeral of a religion.”
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