As we head into the papal conclave it’s important to remember that the church’s primary mission is the salvation of souls, and that whoever the next pope will be, he will takeover a church that is rapidly changing – not only in size and stature, but in the composition of its members.
Currently, there are roughly 1.1 billion Catholics around the world. That’s three times as many as there were in 1910, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
Pew’s findings, which tracked the global changes in the Catholic faith over the past 100 years, has some encouraging, and some not so encouraging, news:
As the pie chart above indicates, the sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean regions have witnessed the largest increases in the number of Catholics, with Latin America-Caribbean now being home to 39% of all the world’s Catholics. Europe, predictably, has seen the largest percentage decrease. In 1910, 65% of all the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Now, that number rests at a paltry 24%. Even though Catholics now make up a larger percentage of the population in North America, 1-in-10 adults in the United States identify as former Catholics, many of whom are now Protestant or unaffiliated.
If there’s one thing we can take away from Pew’s research, it’s that whoever the next pope will be, he needs to make sure Catholics in developing countries have the resources and leadership that will allow them to continue to grow the faith.