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Contemporary challenges for global Catholicism

While Christianity is declining in the West, it is exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America

Thomas P. Rausch, SJ

Thomas P. Rausch, SJ

Published: June 19, 2021 05:18 AM GMT

Updated: June 19, 2021 05:20 AM GMT

Contemporary challenges for global Catholicism

Jesuit Father Karl Rahner was one of the first to recognize that the Second Vatican Council had transformed the western Catholic Church into a world church: “For the first time a worldwide Council with a worldwide episcopate came into existence and functioned independently.”

Bishops from non-western countries were certainly present at Vatican I, but they were largely missionary bishops of European and North American origin. At Vatican II, the bishops came from 116 countries, most of them native born: 36 percent from Europe, 23 percent from Latin America, 12 percent from North America, 20 percent from Asia and Oceania, and 10 percent from Africa. By the time of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, 74 percent of the bishops came from countries other than Europe or North America, as do more than 70 percent of the world’s Catholics today.

The world’s oldest institution, the Catholic Church, is truly a global church. With 1.3 billion members, it represents more than 50 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion Christians. Its enormous numbers and international organizations make it a transnational actor. Recent estimates put Protestant numbers at roughly 37 percent, with another 12 percent belonging to the various Orthodox churches. Other communities, less mainstream, include Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, representing about 1 percent. Today the Pentecostal, Charismatic or Renewalist communities, with over 682 million members, are rapidly growing.

Yet the face of world Christianity is changing today. The main churches of Europe and North America continue to lose members, and Catholic losses are significant. While Latin America is the home of some 425 million Catholics, with the growth of evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, the Catholic Church began losing tens of millions of members.

However, while Christianity is declining in the West, it is exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America, usually referred to as the Global South. According to the Pew Forum, more than 1.3 billion Christians (61 percent) live in the Global South, compared with about 860 million in Europe and North America (39 percent).

This is an excerpt from an article published in La Civilta Cattolica. Click here to read this free article in full.

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