A century ago, Pope Pius X was Pope and there were fewer than 300 million Catholics. When the new Pope is installed in March, he will guide a flock of over 1.1 billion - nearly four times the size guided by Pius X.

Not only has the number increased, but also the church's diversity. In 1910, Europe was home to about two-thirds of all Catholics, and nearly nine-in-ten lived either in Europe (65%) or Latin America (24%), according to the World Christian Database. By 2010, only about a quarter of all Catholics (24%) were in Europe. The largest share (39%) were in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

But the most rapid growth has occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, which today is home to about 171 million Catholics (16%), up from an estimated 1 million (less than 1%) in 1910 - an increase of more than 170-fold. There also has been rapid growth in the vast Asia-Pacific region, where 131 million Catholics (12%) now live, up from 14 million (5%) a century ago - an almost ten-fold increase.

Even in China, Catholics have experienced nearly a ten-fold increase - numbering between nine and twelve million today, up from slightly more than one million in 1910.

Spotlight on Catholics in China: An interview with an "underground" Catholic priest

According to a recent Pew Research study, a substantial number of Christians worship in independent, unregistered churches. These churches do not have legal status because they have not affiliated with one of the two officially approved associations. Unregistered independent Protestant churches, often referred to as “house churches,” meet in various venues including homes, rented facilities, businesses and even public places. Additionally, a substantial number of Catholics worship in unregistered congregations that refuse to join the Patriotic Catholic Association. A main point of contention is that the Association operates independently from Rome; for instance, it appoints bishops without the approval of the pope.

North America’s share of the global Catholic population has increased more slowly, from about 15 million (5%) in 1910 to 89 million (8%) as of 2010.

Though the Middle East and North Africa are the ancient cradle of Christianity, the Middle East-North Africa region is home to less than 1% of Catholics today, about the same as in 1910.

For more details on the study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, see the following links:


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