The Catholic Church is a worldwide force that has reigned for centuries. Through European colonialism, is influence can be found on all continents. Missionaries were an essential part of this religious expansion and although most of these countries have since gained their independence, Catholicism still reigns. However, the contemporary religion has changed significantly throughout history and its current role is far different from what it used to be.
10. DRC Congo (31.2 million)
Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and has been filled with much civil unrest since then. The Catholic Church has played a significant role in the country's politics and social structures asit has set up many schools as well as hospitals. Sometimes people turn to them when they feel that they can no longer trust the government. The church has often been an important mediator between the government and oppositional parties because it was the group that the local population believed was fighting for them.
9. Spain (34.7 million)
Throughout Spain's history, the country has been a battleground between Muslims and Catholics and this led to an aggressive Christian effort once it gained ground after the conquest of Granada in the 15th century. The Inquisition in Spain was a powerful effort to root out any heretics in the country and it was active as late as the beginning of the 19th century. Now Catholicism has changed and the contemporary population does not adhere to the strict regulations that it used to. Only about 15% of Spanish Catholics go to mass every week even though there is a multitude of churches built over the centuries scattered throughout the country.
8. Poland (35.3 million)
Poland is a deeply religious country, with 87.5% of the population citing their religion as Catholic. It lies behind France and Italy in their Catholic population count because the country is smaller, with a smaller population. John Paul II, the pope famous for renewing widespread faith in the Catholic church, remains a powerful symbol in Poland today. Unlike many other European countries, Poland has not had an immigration influx so different religions have not influenced society and Catholicism remains the most popular religion by a wide margin.
7. France (37.9 million)
Like Italy, France also has a long history of Catholicism. In the middle ages, kings referred to the authority of the Pope and it was of upmost importance that they were in his favor while they were reigning. There are 37.9 million Catholics living in France.
6. Colombia (38.1 million)
Catholicism was brought to Colombia in 1508 and the first diocese was established in 1534. After Colombia declared its independence from Spain in 1819, there was some persecution of the religion but it persisted and to be the main religion of the population. There are 52 diocese in the country and over 120 religious organizations.
5. Italy (50.3 million)
Italy has a very long history of Christianity, with the religion first coming to the nation in the 1st century. The church has always been highly influential in Italy and the capital city, Rome, is a popular place for pilgrimage. Furthermore, the Vatican is located within Italy, even though it does function as a separate entity. The 50.3 million Italian Catholics have a long history backing their religious values as well as the leadership of the pope.
4. United States (74.5 million)
The United States is one of the largest countries in the world in terms of population. In the 16th century, the Spanish brought Catholicism to the land that is now known as Florida, George, California, and Texas. The French came to Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, and Michigan in the 18th century, where they set up their own missions. After the United States gained independence, its influx of European immigrants also increased the Catholic population.
3. Phillipines (75.9 million)
The Philippines are the only predominately Catholic country in Asia, with 86% of the population identifying as part of the religion. Just as in Mexico, the Spanish spread Catholicism to the Philippines as part of their divine mission to "educate" the natives. The explorers saw the native religion of the area as a form of devil worship and therefore forebid it. Missionaries came and set up schools and hospitals to educate Filipinos. The Philippines gained independence in 1898 after being traded to the United States a few years before by the Spaniards but they did not return to their native religion. The Catholic conquest has lasted up to this day.
2. Mexico (96.3 million)
Catholicism was also brought to Mexico by conquistadors. The Spanish explorers brought Catholic missionaries with them when they took over Mexico in 1519. It remains highly influential to this day, with 96.3 million residents identifying as Catholic.
1. Brazil (133.7 million)
133.7 million people in Brazil are Catholics, which makes up 64% of the population. The Portuguese brought over the religion and the first diocese was created in 1551. During colonial rule, Catholicism was enforced but it remained the official religion of the country even after independence. Officially, the government is secular but the church still carries a strong influence even to the present day.