Running the numbers, Africa isn’t the Catholic future – it’s the present

By John L. Allen Jr, 30 January 2023
Young worshippers are seen during an Easter Vigil service in Nigeria. Image: Vatican News


A Jan. 23 post on a Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)-affiliated blog titled “1964,” edited by Mark Gray, presents data on Mass attendance rates in 36 countries with large Catholic populations. It’s based on the results from the latest cycle of the World Values Survey (WVS), which has studied trends in values in almost 100 countries since 1981.

Unsurprisingly, the central finding is that Mass attendance is much higher in the developing world, especially in Africa.

Let’s start with Nigeria. Estimates of the Catholic population range from 20 million all the way to 45 million or higher, but for our purposes, let’s use the Vatican number of 32.5 million.

If 94 percent of those folks attend Mass once a week, that translates to 30.5 million Catholics.

By way of contrast, the five largest Catholic countries in western Europe are Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Portugal. Using the percentages in the WVS data, collectively they have about 30.4 million Catholics who show up every Sunday.

In other words, Nigeria alone has roughly the same number of regularly practicing Catholics as all of western Europe.

In much Catholic parlance, it’s long been said that Africa is the future of the church. Looking at the numbers in terms of who actually shows up, however, Africa isn’t the future. It’s the present, and it has been for a while.

To continue reading this article, click here.

John L. Allen Jr. is the editor of Crux, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

With thanks to Crux and John L. Allen Jr, where this article originally appeared.


Read Daily
* indicates required