At the dawn of the 20th century there were roughly 266.5 million Catholics in the world. At the turn of the 21st century, we had grown to 1.1 billion. The overwhelming majority, a staggering 720 million live in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
The Catholic population of sub-Saharan Africa went from 1.9 million to more than 130 million during the 20th century.
Catholicism is growing worldwide for a variety of reasons. My simple point, however, is that we often feel as though we are being beat out by other "exotic" spiritualities. This myopia is pure American self-absorption and Hollywood smoke and mirrors.
- In 2007 there were 350 million Christians in Asia as compared to 372 million Buddhists. By the end of 2010, there should be more Christians in Asia than Buddhists- as John Allen puts it: "a mind-bending reversal of normal impressions about the continent's preferred religion."
- India's Catholc population grew from under 2 million to over 17 million, and should be at least 26 million by mid-century. This is within a hundred years.
- From 1985 to 2005 the percentage of the population in South Korea which identifies itself as Catholic more than doubled, standing today at just over 11 percent according to the 2005 census.
- In 2000 there were more Catholic baptisms in the Philippines alone than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.
All of this is a tease to highlight how a truly spiritual Catholic leader greets a spiritual Buddhist community after Catholicism has successfully outgrown them in their own Buddhist homeland.
Note the complete absence of triumphalism or cant or polemic.
Note the generosity of spirit and hope for the future.
Note the prospect of working together against the works of the devil.
Note the absence of the threat of hellfire which does remain a terrifying part of our full proclamation.
But this is a simple greeting. The headier theological debates are for later. In spite of our differences, we would like to greet you on your holy day and find the common ground that we do really have. We don't have to say everything. Sometimes courtesy and kindness provide a very sweet setting for a full gospel presentation in the future.
When I read this stuff I swell with gratitude for the privilege of being Catholic, especially on this feast of Corpus Christi.
MESSAGE TO BUDDHISTS FOR THE FEAST OF VESAKH/HANAMATSURI 2010
Christians and Buddhists Respect Human Life As the Basis of Respect for All Beings
Dear Buddhist friends,
1. On the occasion of your feast of Vesakh, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue extends congratulations and heartfelt best wishes for peace and joy to all of you around the world. May this message help strengthen our existing bonds of friendship and collaboration in service to humanity.
2. Let us take this opportunity to reflect together on a theme of particular relevance today, namely, the environmental crisis that has already caused notable hardship and suffering throughout the world. The efforts of both of our communities to engage in interreligious dialogue have brought about a new awareness of the social and spiritual importance of our respective religious traditions in this area. We recognize that we hold in common a regard for values like respect for the nature of all things, contemplation, humility, simplicity, compassion, and generosity. These values contribute to a life of nonviolence, equilibrium, and contentment with sufficiency.
3. Pope Benedict XVI, has noted that “the various phenomena of environmental degradation and natural disasters… remind us of the urgent need to respect nature as we should, and to recover and value a correct relationship with the environment in everyday life” (General Audience, 26 August 2009). The Catholic Church considers the protection of the environment as intimately linked to the theme of integral human development; and for her part, she is committed not only to promoting the protection of land, water and air as gifts destined for everyone, but also to encouraging others to join the efforts to protect mankind from self-destruction. Our responsibility to protect nature springs, in fact, from our respect for one another; it comes from the law inscribed in the hearts of all men and women. Consequently, when human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits (cf. Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, n. 51).