Some numbers from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, by way of Sandro Magister:
Catholics were and remain one
sixth of the global population. They were and remain half of all
Christians. But in absolute numbers they have quadrupled. In 1910 they
were 291 million. In 2010 1.1 billion.
What is most arresting,
however, is the geographical revolution. This has been presented by the
Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in a recent
century ago, 70 percent of Catholics lived in Europe and North America.
Today just 32 percent, less than one third of the total.
More than two thirds of Catholics today therefore live in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia and Oceania.
In Latin America, they have grown in one century from 70 million to 425 million.
In Asia and Oceania from 14 million to 131 million.
most astonishing increase has been in sub-Saharan Africa. Catholics
were just 1 million in 1910. A hundred years later 171 million. In one
century they have gone from less than one percent to 16 percent of the
The ranking of the countries with the largest number of Catholics has also been revolutionized.
1910 the leaders of the pack were France and Italy, with 40 and 35
million Catholics respectively. Brazil followed with 21 million. There
were more Catholics in Germany than in Mexico: 16 million versus 14
In 2010 Brazil jumped into the lead with 126 million
Catholics, followed by Mexico with 96 million and the Philippines with
75 million. And for the first time one of the top ten was an African
country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 31 million Catholics.
the countries of Europe and North America, only the United States has
seen over the past century a clear percentage increase of Catholics in
the overall population. They were 14% in 1910, now they are 24%. In
absolute numbers, with 75 million Catholics, the United States today is
tied with the Philippines for third place in the general ranking.
various countries of ancient Christian tradition, including those high
in the rankings, Catholics no longer make up almost the whole of the
population, as was the case a century ago. For example, in Brazil in
1910 Catholics were 95 percent of the population. Today 65 percent. This
reduction has taken place above all in recent decades.
United States as well, where changing from one religion to another is
very common, Catholics have undergone an erosion over the past century.
Those who have left the Church turn out to be more numerous than those
who have entered.
In compensation, however, a great number of
immigrants to the United States, especially from Latin America, have
come to increase the overall presence of Catholics. “Latinos” are today
almost one third of Catholics in the United States and half of those
under the age of 40.
The United States is in short a focal point of the new dislocation of Catholics in the world.
What will be the impact of these numbers on the conclave? It's hard to tell, of course, but they surely must be part of the equation in the minds of many of the cardinals.