Most Catholic Countries Worldwide, Increase Seen In Global South

02/25/2013 07:29 am ET

Click through the slideshow to see the top 10 countries with the largest number of Catholics:

10 Countries with Largest Number of Catholics

A recent analytical report by Pew Research Center, "The Global Catholic Population," indicates the countries with the highest Catholic population today, and how the global face of Catholicism has changed in the last century.

The study, which surveyed 232 countries and territories, finds that as of 2010 the Catholic Church had 1.1 billion adherents worldwide. The Catholic Church is the body of churches that are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. This includes the Roman Catholic Church and 22 Eastern Catholic Churches. This study defines adherents as those who self-identify as Catholics. This includes those whose religious views might be deemed unorthodox, and those who seldom pray or attend church.

With close to 127 million Catholics, Brazil has more Catholics than any other country, and 11.7 percent of the world's Catholic population. Brazil is followed by Mexico (96 million), Philippines (76 million), United States (75 million), Italy (49 million), Colombia (38 million), France (38 million), Poland (35 million), Spain (35 million) and Democratic Republic of the Congo (31 million). Together, these 10 countries account for 55.6 percent of the Catholic population worldwide. For some perspective, Brazil alone has more Catholics than Italy, France and Poland, the top three European countries on the list, combined.

According to Pew's report, over the past century the number of Catholics around the world has tripled from an estimated 291 million in 1910 to around 1.1 billion in 2010. Still, the percentage of Catholics in world population has remained relatively stable; in 1910 Catholics comprised 17 percent of the world's population, and in 2010, Catholics comprised 16 percent of the world's population.

global catholic population change

As the chart above shows, in 1910, 65 percent of the world's Catholics lived in Europe; European Catholics constituted a clear majority in world Catholic population. Over the last 100 years, there has been rapid growth in Catholic population in Sub-Saharan African and Asia-Pacific regions. The growth in North America and Latin America-Caribbean regions has been slower, while Europe's share has decreased sharply (from 65 percent to 24 percent) and there has been negligible change in Middle East and North Africa. As the Pew Research Center analysis notes, this change is partially affected by rates of overall population growth, which has for instance, decreased significantly in Europe, but increased in Latin America and the Caribbean.

catholic share of the population

Examining the Catholic share of the population in each geographic region in 1910 and 2010 affirms earlier conclusions. There is dramatic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and slow but steady growth in Asia-Pacific and North America. Interestingly, the percentage of Catholics in Latin America-Caribbean region decreases from 90 percent to 72 percent of the population, even as the region overtakes Europe as the most Catholic with approximately 426 million Catholics compared to Europe's 257 million.

For a more comprehensive take on how the world Catholic population has changed in the past century, check out Pew Research Center's report.

Charts republished from the Pew Research Center, “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.

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