Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina formally will be installed as Pope Francis on Tuesday, March 19, becoming the first pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church from Latin America. Pope Francis’ new home, Europe, once held the bulk of all Catholics in the world (65% in 1910, according to data from the World Christian Database). Today, however, Europe is home to only 24% of all Catholics according to Pew Research Center estimates.
During the same period, Latin America’s share of the global Catholic population rose from 24% to 39%. There are now more Catholics in Latin America (425 million), including the Caribbean, than in any other region. However, the portion of Latin America’s population that is Catholic declined over the past century, dropping from 90% in 1910 to 72% in 2010.
How could Latin America simultaneously become less heavily Catholic and home to an increasing share of all Catholics in the world? It’s because the region’s overall population grew faster than both the global population and the global Catholic population. Between 1910 and 2010, the population of the world nearly quadrupled, from 1.8 billion to 6.9 billion. The number of Catholics also nearly quadrupled, from 291 million to 1.1 billion, keeping pace with the rate of change. By contrast, the population of Latin America grew more than sevenfold, from 78 million to 590 million. During that same period, the Catholic population in Latin America grew about sixfold, from 71 million to 425 million.
So, although the Catholic population in Latin America did not grow quite as fast as the region’s overall population during the past century, the growth in the number of Catholics in the region significantly outpaced the average growth among Catholics in the rest of the world.