A look at the distribution of Catholics by population.
From its humble beginnings the Catholic Church has grown vast in the last two millennia, spreading over the entire world. The Christian faith is the most widely practiced religion, encompassing nearly a third of the world’s population, and of the many denominations the Catholic Church is the largest, boasting 1.285 billion faithful.
While the Middle East gave rise to Catholicism, and the Romans helped to spread it through Europe, the majority of the world was introduced to the Word of Christ by way of European missionaries. Although the social position of the church has changed since the Middle Ages, the faith remains a strong, guiding force in the lives of so many.
See the Top Ten Most Catholic Countries in the World:
#10 -Democratic Republic of the Congo – 28,700,000 Catholics
The southernmost country in Central Africa, the DRC (formerly known as Zaire) won its independence in 1960. Pitifully, the African country has been in a state of unrest in the years since, suffering both continental and civil wars. The Catholic Church has actively helped by providing schools and hospitals, and has also worked as mediator between the government and private parties. Christianity is the majority religion in the country. According to recent surveys, Christians constituted 93.7% of the population, with Catholics making up 29.7%: approximately 35 million people.
#9 – Spain – 32,364,000 Catholics
Christianity in Spain is as old as Christianity itself. It is a well-known fact that Paul wanted to travel all the way to Spain, as it is clear in the fifteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans (verses 24 to 28). Some extra biblical texts (including the Muratorian Canon and the first letter of Saint Clement to the Corinthians) claim Paul in fact reached “the extreme limit of the West”. However, if Paul’s presence in Spain is a matter of discussion, that of James, the son of Zebedee (“Santiago” being the Spanish evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctu Iacobu, “Saint James”) is one the Spanish hold dear in their hearts: it is believed James himself preached the Gospel all around the Iberian Peninsula, and his body was brought later from Jerusalem (where he was beheaded) to Compostela.
#8 – Poland – 33,037,017 Catholics
85.8 percent of Poland’s population identifies as Catholic. The Christianization of Poland began with the baptism of Mieszko I, from the Piast dynasty, on the Holy Saturday of the year 966. By the 13th century, Catholicism had become the most extended religion throughout the country, and Christian Poles coexisted with a significant Jewish community, which comprised 10% of the country’s population until WWII. The country that produced Pope St. John Paul II, Saint Faustina Kowalska, Saint Maximilian Kolbe and many others, hold them as a powerful symbols of their faith.
#7 – Colombia – 36,000,000 Catholics
Catholicism arrived in Colombia in 1508, its first diocese being established in 1534. As in most former Spanish colonies in South America, the Catholic Church (Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian friars mainly in the early colonial era) not only created but was also in charge of most public institutions, including teaching facilities (schools, colleges, universities, libraries) health facilities (hospitals, nurseries, leper hospitals) and even jails. Nowadays, there are 52 dioceses and over 120 religious Catholic organizations in the country.
#6 – France – 44,000,000 Catholics
A long standing tradition claims Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, and Lazarus, along with some companions who were facing persecution in the Holy Land crossed the Mediterranean, landing in southern France, near Arles. In fact, the Provençal tradition claims Lazarus himself was the first bishop of Marseille. But the first actual written records of Christians in France date from the 2nd century, when Saint Irenaeus detailed the deaths of ninety-year-old bishop Pothinus of Lugdunum (that is, Lyon) and other martyrs of the 177 persecution in Lyon. A few centuries later, in 496, Remigius baptized Clovis I, who has been considered to be the founder of France.
#5 – Italy – 50,474,000 Catholics
Christianity arrived in Italy in the very first century, most likely brought there by traders and soldiers in the Roman army, according to most historians. Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans is witness to the presence of Roman Christians in the very early days of Christianity. These communities were also with Saint Peter and Saint Clement, the latter being the first Italian pope, who wrote a letter to the Christian community in Corinth in the year 96.
#4 – United States – 71,000,000 Catholics
The United States saw the arrival of Catholicism with the Spanish in Florida and Georgia, as well as in California, the Franciscan saint Junípero Serra being one of the main protagonists of this process. The French also brought a Catholic presence to Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, and Michigan, although much later, in the 18th century, alongside German and English immigrants. The faith was then bolstered in the northeast by Italian and Irish immigrants of the 19th and 20th century, as well as by other Eastern European newcomers, just like Latino and Filipino communities do nowadays.
#3 – Philippines – 85,470,000 Catholics
Catholicism came to the Philippine islands by way of Spanish missionaries and colonists, who arrived there in the early 16th century in Cebu. Today the island nation is one of the two nations in Asia having a substantial portion of the population professing the Catholic faith, aside from East Timor. According to recent polls, 81.4 percent of the country currently identifies as Catholic.
#2 – Mexico – 98,820,000 Catholics
Catholicism was brought to Mexico by Spanish conquistadors and missionaries in the early 16th century, with a priest arriving at the Peninsula of Yucatán in 1519 as a member of Hernán Cortés’ expedition, in what is now known as Veracruz (“the True Cross”). A few years later, in 1524, twelve Franciscan friars also arrived in Mexico, being later known as “Los Doce” (“The twelve”, in a clear reference to Christ’s own twelve apostles). The Dominican order got to Mexican land in 1526, followed by the Augustinians in 1533.
#1 – Brazil – 126,880,000 Catholics
Tradition claims the first Mass celebrated in Brazilian territory took place on Easter Sunday, 1500. However, the first diocese was established by the Portuguese in this land in 1551. During colonial times, Catholic missions opposed the Portuguese governmental policy of exploiting the native population, leading to the eventual suppression of the Jesuits in the 18th century. Once the country gained its independence in the 19th century, the already existing Iberian Catholic community received a large number of Italian, Polish, and German Catholic immigrants. Brazil is nowadays the country with the most Catholics, although they only represent only 61 percent of Brazil’s total population.