The new Catholic homeland

Within a few decades, a third of all Catholics will live in Africa.

Little noticed by many of its American faithful, the Roman Cath­olic Church is going through one of the most significant eras of change in its long and eventful history. The transformation is being wrought neither by political conflict nor theological change, but rather by demographics—although these as­suredly will have political and cultural consequences.

Within a few decades, up to a third of all Catholics will live on the African continent, which will then be the largest global center of Catholicism. At some point, the church’s leadership will have to ac­knowledge that vast presence.

The growth of Catholic Africa is an amazing phenomenon, and a very recent one. In 1900, the whole African continent had just a couple of million Catholics. The number grew to 130 million by the end of the century, and today it approaches 200 million. Just since 1980, the total number of African Catholics has grown by 238 percent. If current trends continue, as they show every sign of doing, then by the 2040s there will be some 460 million African Catholics, a number greater than the total world population of Catholics in 1950.