What influence does Catholicism hold in Asia?

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Southeast Asia beginning of September, making stops in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Singapore. According to recent statistics, one in nine Catholics worldwide resides in Asia.

Apr 26, 2024

Indonesian Catholics at a service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Jakarta, Indonesia in this file image. (Vatican News photo)

By Guillaume Daudé
While Catholicism is a significant minority on the densely populated Asian continent, its followers nonetheless play a substantial role in the global Church. Pope Francis is set to meet with Asian Catholics during a regional tour that will last about 10 days and may include visits to Vietnam, in addition to the countries previously mentioned by authorities from the first two.

The Holy See Press Office announced April 12 that Pope Francis will visit four Asian countries — Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Singapore — September 2-13. Pope Francis travels first to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, where he will land on Sept 3 and remain until Sept 6. He will then fly to visit Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, and Vanimo, Sept 6-9. His next stop will be in Dili, capital of Timor-Leste, Sept 9-11. He will then travel to Singapore for a three-day visit before returning to Rome.
Special papal attention to Asia

Having previously visited South Korea in 2014, the Philippines in 2015, Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017, Thailand and Japan in 2019, Iraq in 2021, Mongolia in 2023, this upcoming trip further underscores the Argentine pope’s focused interest in the world’s most populous continent — home to over 4 billion people — where the expression of Catholicism varies greatly from country to country.

In nations such as China and Japan, Catholics make up less than one per cent of the population, and in India less than 1.5 per cent. However, in the Philippines, Catholics constitute about 80 per cent of its 116 million people.

Vatican statistics from 2020 to 2021 indicate a nearly one per cent increase in the number of Catholics in Asia, who now represent approximately 3.3 per cent of the continent’s total population. This relatively modest figure highlights Catholicism’s minority status in Asia, even though Catholics comprise 17.67 per cent of the global population. With Asia being the most populated continent, Asian Catholics account for nearly 11 per cent of all baptised members of the Universal Church. In contrast, 19.3 per cent of the world’s Catholics reside in Africa, about 48 per cent in the Americas, and 20 per cent in Europe.

If Pope Francis’ trip proceeds as planned, he will encounter vastly different circumstances of Catholicism. In East Timor, 98 per cent of its 1.5 million residents are Catholic, while in Papua New Guinea, Catholics represent about 26 per cent of its 9.8 million population. In Indonesia, a nation of nearly 280 million people, Catholics make up less than three per cent. Lastly, if the Pope also visits Vietnam, he will engage with a vibrant community that comprises about six per cent of the 105 million Vietnamese. -- LCI (https://international.la-croix.com)

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