Catholic News

USCCB News News from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • A host of sacramental statistics: Vatican tracks practice of the faith
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on June 2, 2023 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As first Communion season winds down and wedding fever rises, Catholic counters are busy. The Central Office of Church Statistics, a department of the Vatican Secretariat of State, keeps track of baptisms, first Communions, confirmations and Catholic marriages reported by dioceses around the world. The statistics are one way of "showing adherence to the church," including the continuing practice of the faith over time, said the introduction to the chapter "Practice of Religion" in the 512-page volume, Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2021. Using statistics reported as of Dec. 31, 2021, the book was published in February this year. It counted more than 1.3 billion Catholics in the world or 17.7% of the global population. Dioceses and other church territories around the world reported more than 13.7 million baptisms in 2021 and more than 11.1 million of those, 81%, were baptisms of children under the age of 7. The yearbook for 1991 reported 18.1 million baptisms worldwide, 89% of which involved welcoming into the church children under the age of 7. The statistical yearbook noted "a general downward trend in the relative number of baptisms, following closely the trend in the birthrate in most countries." The yearbook also provided a look at the percentage of baptisms of people over the age of 7 by continent from 2016 to 2021, providing an indication that missionary activity is holding steady everywhere but the Middle East. Africa leads the world in the percentage of baptisms in which the new Christian was over 7 years of age. In 2016 close to 33% of the baptisms on the continent involved older children and adults; by 2021, it had grown to 36%. Both the Middle East and Europe reported in 2016 that about 4.5% of all baptisms involved people over the age of 7; by 2021, the Middle East reported only 2.9% of baptisms involved that population, while Europe stood steady at 4.5%. North American dioceses reported 8.7% in 2016 and 8.6% in 2021. The number of Catholic weddings celebrated around the world in 2021 was over 1.8 million; of those, only 9.2% involved a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic. On the low end, only 1.7% of marriages in Central America were between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, while in Oceania the figure was 28.3%. North America was close with 20.2 percent of all sacramental marriages involving a Catholic and a non-Catholic. The yearbook for 1991 reported more than 3.8 million Catholic weddings with 8.9% of them involving a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic. In 2021, the yearbook said, 8.5 million people received their first Communion, and 7.3 million people were confirmed. In addition to listing the number of first Communions and confirmations reported country by country and continent by continent, the 2021 yearbook also gives the number of those sacraments per 1,000 Catholics in the country or region, giving a sense of how many children those Catholics are having and how they are or are not bringing their children up in the faith. The global average was 6.2 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics; in Asia the ratio was highest at 9.1, while the Americas were on the low end with 5.2. The yearbook said there were 7.3 first Communions per 1,000 Catholics in the United States in 2021 and 3.1 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics in Canada.

  • St. Peter's Basilica opens exhibit on Marian coronations
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on June 1, 2023 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Of the more than 1,300 Marian images crowned around the world, one of the first to receive this honor does not have a crown today. For over 350 years, Michelangelo's Pietà, instantly recognizable by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, was one of several "crowned Madonnas" in St. Peter's Basilica. Until 1924, the disproportionately large Mary bore a golden crown supported by two angels, and over the head of the limp Jesus in her lap was a halo. Coronated in 1568, the sculpture was at the beginning of a wave of Marian coronations which took off in the 17th-century. "In the early 1600s, a Capuchin friar had the nice idea of officially coronating the Marian images that had a certain devotion, and so he went around towns and began this practice," said Pietro Zander, curator of a Vatican exhibit on Marian coronations, during a tour of the Marian imagery in St. Peter's Basilica May 30. Michelangelo's Pietà is seen in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 30, 2023. The sculpture was coronated in 1568, but Mary's crown and Jesus' halo were removed in 1924. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez) In 1636, the Vatican began supporting, and regulating, Marian coronations. The local community, typically a church or Marian shrine, was required to write to the Vatican confirming that the image was of "continuous and ancient devotion, used for religious purposes and generated an increase in Marian devotion," said Zander. Once the image was crowned, the community was obliged to send a letter to the Vatican guaranteeing that the act of coronation followed the prescribed rules along with a painting of the coronated image. "These images started arriving -- these paintings, since there wasn't photography at the time --are beautiful since they were commissioned by artists," said Zander. The paintings acted as a type of postcard meant to share each community's particular Marian devotion with the Vatican. Often, text at the bottom of the painting explained the community's devotion and told of the coronation event. Hundreds are still preserved in the Vatican and, beginning on the feast of the Visitation of Mary May 31, 15 of them from throughout Italy will be on display in St. Peter's Basilica. The exhibit, titled "Crowned Madonnas," is organized by the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for maintaining St. Peter's Basilica. Each image comes from a different region in Italy and is accompanied by the story of a community's source of devotion. One image, called "Our Lady of the Stone," shows Mary with a wound on her right arm which is said to have begun bleeding after a drunken soldier threw a small rock at it. Another tells of monks finding a worn and discolored statue of Mary that miraculously returned to its original form and color during Mass and brought the withered flowers nearby back to life. Paintings of "Our Lady of the Stone," "Our Lady of the Bridge" and "Our Lady of Graces" are displayed as part of the "Crowned Madonnas" exhibit open in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 31 to Oct. 7. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez) Zander said the exhibit, which runs until Oct. 7, adds to the rich history of Marian devotion already present in the pope's basilica. He recalled that the first image brought into today's St. Peter's Basilica was a 12th-century fresco of Our Lady of Perpetual Help taken from the wall of the old basilica that once stood in its place. Additionally, the image of "Mater Ecclesiae" (Mother of the Church) in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Column is taken from a piece of a column that stood in front of the old St. Peter's Basilica. Zander explained that that after the assassination attempt on St. John Paul II in 1981, the pope requested that an enlarged image of "Mater Ecclesiae" be placed above a window of the Apostolic Palace over the colonnade in St. Peter's Square to welcome visitors. The last Marian image to be crowned in the Vatican was Our Lady of Czestochowa, widely venerated in Poland and by the Polish pope, just hours before his death in 2005. While the current exhibition shows Marian paintings from all of Italy, Zander said he hopes the basilica will rotate through its collection of "crowned Madonnas" to give a glimpse of how the mother of Jesus is venerated around the world.  

  • Evangelizer's strength comes from practicing what one preaches, pope says
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on May 31, 2023 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The most powerful and effective method of evangelization is to live according to what one teaches and preaches, Pope Francis said. "I can recite the Creed by heart, I can talk about everything we believe in, but if your life is not consistent with that, it will get you nowhere," he told people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square May 31. What attracts people to the Gospel, he said, is seeing consistency in the way Christians live, seeing that "we, Christians, live the way we say and do not pretend to be Christians," who, instead, live a "worldly" life. The pope continued his series of talks about "zeal" for evangelization by focusing on Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, a 16th-century Italian missionary who spent 28 years evangelizing in China and bringing Western science to the continent. He died in Beijing in 1610, at the age of 57. His missionary spirit represents "a living and relevant model" for evangelization today, said Pope Francis, who advanced the Jesuit's sainthood cause in 2022 by recognizing his heroic virtues. "His love for the Chinese people is a model," he said, but what is most important is "his consistency," his witness as a Christian. Father Ricci is known as a great missionary because "he brought Christianity to China," the pope said, and he is "great" because he was "a great scientist, he is great because he is courageous, he is great because he wrote so many books, but he is great, above all, because he was consistent with his vocation, consistent with that desire to follow Jesus Christ." Christians, he said, should ask themselves whether they are living in harmony with what they believe, "Am I consistent, or am I a little so-so?" After St. Francis Xavier first tried to enter China in the 1500s, another 25 Jesuits after him tried and failed to enter the country, the pope said. However, Father Ricci succeeded. He and a confrere spent years preparing for their mission to China by studying the language and customs, and then they spent another 18 years to get to Beijing. Father Ricci is a "great example of apostolic zeal" because "with perseverance and patience, inspired by an unshakeable faith, Matteo Ricci was able to overcome difficulties and dangers, mistrust and opposition," Pope Francis said. What was his secret? What path did his zeal take him? the pope asked. "He always followed the path of dialogue and friendship with everyone he met, and this opened many doors for him to proclaim the Christian faith." The pope explained how the priest adopted some aspects of Chinese culture by first dressing like the Buddhist monks of the region, "but then he understood that the best way was to assume the lifestyle and clothing of the 'literati'" or Chinese scholars. "He studied their classical texts in depth, so that he could present Christianity in positive dialogue with their Confucian wisdom and the customs of Chinese society." This is "inculturation" -- the same approach used in the early centuries of the church, when the early church theologians "inculturated" the Christian faith in dialogue with Greek culture, he said. Matteo Ricci was admired and respected as a man of science, but the most important of all his efforts was "the proclamation of the Gospel," the pope said. But the credibility he earned through his sincere and wise scientific dialogue "gave him authority to propose the truth of the Christian faith and Christian morality." He gave witness by living a life of virtue and prayer, because "it is prayer that fuels the missionary life," and by living a life of charity and helping others, by being humble and shunning all honors and riches, which all led "many of his Chinese disciples and friends to embrace the Catholic faith," the pope said. "This is the consistency of evangelizers," he said. The greatest strength of the best missionaries "is consistency; they are consistent" with what they teach and live. Pope: Practice what you preach! During his general audience May 31, Pope Francis underlined the importance of living consistently with the Christian message.

  • Pope Francis Creates Ecclesiastical Province of Las Vegas and Names Most Reverend George Leo Thomas as First Metropolitan Archbishop of Las Vegas
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on May 30, 2023 at 8:30 am

    WASHINGTON - Pope Francis has created the Ecclesiastical Province of Las Vegas, comprised of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Las Vegas, and the suffragan dioceses of Reno and Salt Lake City. At the same time, he named Most Reverend George Leo Thomas, as the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Las Vegas. The establishment of the new province and the appointment of the metropolitan archbishop was publicized in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 2023, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. An ecclesiastical province is a territory consisting of at least one archdiocese (known as the “metropolitan see”) and includes several dioceses (known as “suffragan sees”). The metropolitan archbishop is the head of his archdiocese, and while he has no direct power of governance over the suffragan dioceses in his province, through canon law (Church law), he supports them in matters of faith and discipline and provides fraternal pastoral care to his brother bishops. In this newly created province, the Archdiocese of Las Vegas is the metropolitan see, and the Diocese of Reno and the Diocese of Salt Lake City are the suffragan sees. Archbishop Thomas was appointed the third bishop of Las Vegas on February 28, 2018, and has now been named the archbishop of the newly created province. His full biography may be read here. The Archdiocese of Las Vegas is comprised of 39,088 square miles in the State of Nevada and has a total population of 2,322,280, of which 620,000 are Catholic. ###

  • Vatican launches compact for families with pope's support
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on May 30, 2023 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Asserting that "it is in the family that many of God's dreams for the human community are realized," Pope Francis asked Catholic universities and Catholic couples around the world to support the "Family Global Compact." "We cannot resign ourselves to the decline of the family in the name of uncertainty, individualism and consumerism, which envision a future of individuals who think only of themselves," the pope wrote in a letter released May 30 with the launch of the compact by the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. "We cannot be indifferent to the future of the family as a community of life and love, a unique and indissoluble covenant between a man and a woman, a place where generations meet, a source of hope for society," the pope continued. Pastoral, social and financial support for families is not a concern only for the church, he said, because strong families have "a positive effect on everyone" and are a key factor in promoting the common good. "Healthy family relationships represent a unique source of enrichment, not only for spouses and children but for the entire ecclesial and civil community," the pope wrote. The dicastery and the academy of social sciences began working on the global compact in 2021, seeking ways to promote cooperation between those engaged in the pastoral care of families and Catholic university programs and centers specialized in research about family life, as well as to form a network among the universities. The compact says by sharing research into the realities families are living today "helpful public policy resolutions and objectives can emerge." Dominican Sister Helen Alford, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, speaks at a news conference to present the Family Global Compact and a message from Pope Francis supporting it at the Vatican May 30, 2023. She is seated between Pierpaolo Donati, an academy member, and Gabriella Gambino, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez) The goal of the compact, according to its mission statement, is to enhance and sustain service to families "in spiritual, pastoral, cultural, legal, political, economic and social terms." Gabriella Gambino, undersecretary of the dicastery, said the university programs already onboard include not only those dedicated to studying the family, but also a couple women's studies programs, given the reality that family life, heading single-parent families, dealing with the impact of poverty, trying to find a work-life balance and raising children all are issues that currently impact women more than men. The compact wants to focus on the importance of family relationships, Gambino said, and that includes promoting research on women's responsibilities and relationships with spouses, partners, children, relatives and the wider community "so that these relationships will be considered in the public arena" when new family policies or services are being discussed. "This is our concern: A woman is not just an individual when she cares for her family, and this must be considered in the marketplace, in society, in the kinds of services offered to women and at work," Gambino said. "For example, one must recognize the ties a woman has with her children when one is trying to harmonize home and work. These ties, these bonds are important, they are fundamental in people's lives." Another thing she said she hoped would come out of the compact is a call "for the education of men in the authentic sharing" of responsibility for careers and the home, including childcare, "because otherwise the task of harmonizing the two falls almost always on the woman." Dominican Sister Helen Alford, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said the work of the academicians showed both "light and shadows" in how families around the world are doing. But "it was clear in the discussions during the plenary last year that the family remains a very resilient social structure, capable of absorbing shocks and of providing support and healing to people in many different circumstances." "In a world that is looking for more resilience in the face of projected future crises, including those arising from climate change," she said, "investing in the family and in research into how families can face their challenges more effectively, would bring great returns for society as a whole." The academy, she said, proposed that the Vatican launch the compact and called for the church to work to include "the promotion of family well-being" in the U.N.'s next set of sustainable development goals. Academy members also saw need for "national action plans to help families meet their basic needs and implement them by allocating a significant amount of their budget to them," and for the creation of working groups to come up with "family-friendly employment contracts, focusing on concrete actions and preparing positions on key issues that could improve relations between families and businesses."