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Reflecting the Mind of the
Vatican since 1850
Free Article
Contemporary Challenges for Global Catholicism
Jesuit Father Karl Rahner was one of the first to recognize that the Second Vatican Council had transformed the western Catholic Church into a world Church: “For the first time a world-wide Council with a world-wide episcopate came into existence and functioned independently.”

Bishops from non-western countries were certainly present at Vatican I, but they were largely missionary bishops of European and North American origin. At Vatican II, the bishops came from 116 countries, most of them native born: 36 percent from Europe, 23 percent from Latin America, 12 percent from North America, 20 percent from Asia and Oceania, and 10 percent from Africa. By the time of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, 74 percent of the bishops came from countries other than Europe or North America, as do more than 70 percent of the world’s Catholics today.

The world’s oldest institution, the Catholic Church, is truly a global Church. With 1.3 billion members, it represents more than 50 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion Christians. Its enormous numbers and international organizations make it a transnational actor. Recent estimates put Protestant numbers at roughly 37 percent, with another 12 percent belonging to the various Orthodox Churches. Other communities, less mainstream, include Christian Scientists, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, representing about 1 percent. Today the Pentecostal, Charismatic or Renewalist communities, with over 682 million members, are rapidly growing.
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