The Catholic Church is the largest Christian Church in the world. They make up over half of the 2.2 billion Christians around the world.
The global Catholic population is not evenly distributed. Some countries like Paraguay and Croatia are almost entirely Catholic while others like Afghanistan barely have any Catholics.
In this post, we explore the most Catholic countries in the world, as well as the least Catholic countries.
What You'll Learn Today
How Many Catholics Are There In The World?
Currently, the worldwide Catholic church is about 1.3 billion people strong. That’s 16.5% of the world population.
This population includes the mainstream Roman or Latin church plus 23 Eastern Catholic or Oriental Catholic Churches.
Which Countries Have The Most Catholics?
The largest population of Catholics is in Latin America, where you’ll find about 40% of the global population of Catholics.
When you combine all the countries in the Americas, they carry the largest population of Catholics estimated at almost 900 million or about 48.7% of the global Catholic population.
Europe follows with 26.3% of all the Catholics in the world. Then Africa (12.5%), Asia (11.2%), Oceania (0.7%) and the Middle East (0.3%).
Top 10 Most Catholic Countries
- United States
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
Some of these countries like Italy and Spain were among the first to practice Catholisicm. Christianity was spread there from the early churches.
But for most countries including Brazil, Mexico and Philippines Catholicism came much later through, usually through trade, colonization, explorers or missionaries.
For instance, several Latin American countries like the Philippines and Argentina were introduced to Catholicism during the Spanish occupation.
Which Countries Have The Least Catholics?
The countries with the least number of Catholics are those with a majority Muslim population. For religious, cultural and political reasons, the Catholic population has remained very low in these countries.
As you can guess, the region of the world with the fewest Catholics is the Middle East.
Island states as well as countries and regions in Oceania also have few Catholics, but that’s just because they have small populations.
If you look at the percentage of Catholics in comparison to the country’s population, some of these tiny countries are actually some of the most Catholic in the world.
A good example is East Timor. This island country in Southeast Asia has a total population of just slightly over 1 million. Of that, 97.5% are Catholic, making it the most Catholic country after Vatican City.
Vatican City is actually another great example. It has less than a thousand people, but 100% of them are Catholic. You could say it is the most Catholic country in the world.
So when I talk about the least Catholic countries, I am referring to those with a low number of Catholics as compared to the country’s entire population.
Top 10 Least Catholic Countries
- North Korea
As you can see, the majority of these countries are mostly Muslim. In some of these countries, the Catholic church faces legal obstructions to its growth.
For example, in Uzbekistan, Catholic churches are allowed but any efforts to convert people to Catholicism including missionary work is outlawed.
Freedom of religion is essentially nonexistent in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
In Cambodia, the majority of the population is Buddhist, while in North Korea the political ideology of Juche has displaced most religions.
Which Countries Have The Fastest Growing Number Of Catholics?
According to the Vatican daily newspaper, the L’Osservatore Romano, the global Catholic population has continued to grow. From 2018 to 2019, there were 16 million more Catholics in the World.
In fact, there was growth in every continent except Europe.
The highest growth in the number of Catholics has been in Africa, particularly Sub Saharan Africa. Some researchers estimate that the Catholic population in Africa will increase by 146% by 2050.
I couldn’t find data on the Catholic population growth in specific countries, but it’s a good bet that it’s an African country.
This is not just because the gospel is spreading rapidly there; but also because of fast population growth. If you look at the countries with the highest population growth, the top 20 are all in Africa.
In Which Countries Are Catholics Shrinking Quickly?
Post World War II, most Western countries have trended towards religion and secularism. The number of Christians in many countries in Europe and North America has continued to decline over the years. The Catholic Church has not been spared.
The number of Catholics is going down in most Western countries and Catholic Churches are closing down. For example, over 500 Catholic churches have closed in Germany while Canada has lost over a third of Catholic churches.
Even in predominantly Catholic Latin America, some countries are seeing a drop in Catholic populations. One of the most affected countries is Argentina, the home country of Pope Francis.
One study found that the Catholic population reduced by 13% between 2008 and 2019.
The shift away from Christianity is occurring mostly among young populations. Interestingly, it’s not a case of people moving from the Catholic church to other denominations or another religion.
Rather, many young people are simply deciding not to hold any religion at all.
The good news is that, globally, the number of Catholics is still going up mostly thanks to huge growth in Sub saharan Africa.
The question is whether that growth will continue or if these regions will follow the trend in the Western world. If you’re interested in more interesting facts, read this article about holidays that Catholics celebrate.