Catholic Church Facts
Catholic Church Facts

66 Interesting Facts about Catholicism

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published February 24, 2017
  • Catholicism has been a moving force in the development of Western culture. It continues to be influential in religious issues, social institutions, art, education, medicine, science, music, philosophy, literature, and politics.[7]
  • The Catholic Church’s Vatican has diplomatic relations with almost every country in the world.[2]
  • Pope John Paul II traveled to more than 129 different countries, logging more than 750,000 frequent flyer miles, which is about three times the distance to the moon.[2]
  • The word “Catholic” was first used by Ignatius of Antioch around the year A.D. 110. It is from the Greek word katholikos, which means “toward the whole.” Ignatius was suggesting that the Church is a gift offered by Christ to all people.[7]
  • The Catholic Church is the largest single denomination in Christianity.[2]
  • The “Devil’s Advocate” or Advocate Diaboli, is a real position within the Catholic Church.[7]
  • Interesting Church Fact
    Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in over 400 years
  • Between John Paul II’s election to the papacy in 1978 and his death in 2004, more than 17 million people attended his weekly audiences in Rome.[2]
  • The Roman Catholic Church executed William Tyndale in 1536 for translating the Bible into English. He was not just executed: he was tried for heresy, choked, impaled, and burned on the stake. Roughly 83% of the New Testament in the King James Bible is Tyndale’s translation. Additionally, roughly 76% of the Old Testament is his translation.[2]
  • The crime rate in Vatican City is 133.6%, which means there are more annual offenses than there are people in the Vatican (about 500 people). Most of the crimes, though, are committed by visiting tourists.[2]
  • The oldest institution in the Western world is the Catholic Church. It traces its history back almost 2,000 years.[7]
  • There are more than 1 billion Catholics in the world, in all five continents. They are particularly concentrated in southern Europe, the U.S., the Philippines, and the countries of Central and South America. What binds them together is a belief in Jesus Christ and obedience to the papacy.[1]
  • Catholics believe that the pope, who is based in Rome, is the successor to Saint Peter, which Christ appointed as the first head of His church.[2]
  • For almost 1,000 years, Catholicism was Christianity. But over time, schisms have disrupted the unity, including a schism in A.D. 144 with Marcionism, a schism in 318 A.D. with Arianism, a divide in 1054 A.D. with the East-West Schism, and yet another divide in 1517 during the Protestant Reformation.[7]
  • A 2008 study suggested that most practicing Catholics are ignoring the Church’s teachings on contraception and sex.[2]
  • The pope does not live in Italy; he lives in Vatican City, which is a county within Italy.[7]
  • Women are not allowed to become Roman Catholic priests.[2]
  • Interesting Church Fact
    Brazil has the most Catholics in the world
  • Brazil has more Catholics than Italy, France, and Poland combined.[1]
  • The Catholic Church is the body of churches that are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, which includes the Roman Catholic Church and 22 Eastern Catholic Churches.[7]
  • Brazil has more Catholics than any other country with close to 127 million, or 11.7% of the world’s Catholic population. It is followed by Mexico (96 million), the Philippines (76 million), the U.S. (75 million), Italy, (49 million), Columbia (38 million), France (38 million), Poland (35 million), Spain (35 million), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (31 million). These 10 countries account for 55.6% of the Catholic population globally.[1]
  • Over the past 100 years, the number of Catholics around the world as tripled from 291 million in 1910 to 1.1 billion in 2010. Percentage wise, the population has remained relatively stable, constituting 17% of the world population in 1910 and 16% in 2010.[1]
  • In 1910, 65% of Europe was Catholic. In 2010, only 24% was. While Catholics in Europe have declined, there has been rapid growth in the Catholic population in the Sub-Saharan African and Asia-Pacific regions.[1]
  • During the High and Late Middle Ages, the Latin Roman Catholic Church sanctioned military campaigns called the Crusades. The impact of the Crusades was profound, and judgment ranged from praise to condemnation.[2]
  • The first printed Bible was printed under the supervision of the Catholic Church. It was printed by the Catholic inventor of the printing press: Johannes Gutenberg.[2]
  • Fun Catholicism Fact
    The term "hocus pocus" has Catholic roots
  • The magical term “hocus pocus” comes from the most sacred moment in Catholic ritual: the consecration of the bread as the body of Christ by the priest speaking the words “This is my body,” which in Latin is Hoc est enim corpus meum.[7]
  • It was the Catholic Church that added modern-day chapters and numbered verses to the Bible.[2]
  • Xavier University in Louisiana is the only historically Black and Catholic University in the United States.[2]
  • The first black person to be documented as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church was known as Saint Maurice (a.k.a. St. Mauritius or St. Moritz). He was a 3rd-century Roman soldier born in Egypt who was martyred when he refused to massacre Christians for the Roman Empire.[4]
  • While there is no definitive “head count,” based on history, the Roman martyrology, and Orthodox sources, scholars estimate that there are over 10,000 saints and beati (“blesses ones”).[3]
  • The tradition of honoring saints actually came from the Jews who had a long-standing tradition of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines.[2]
  • The fish, or ICHTHUS, is the symbol used by early Christians to identify themselves in times of persecution. In Greek, ICHTHUS (ΙΧΘΥΣ) is a monogram for the first five letters of the words “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior.”[2]
  • A common Catholic symbol is the Sacred Heart, which is a heart shown pierced with a cross and crown of thorns that recall Christ’s sacrifice. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus first began in the late 17th century.[2]
  • A common Catholic symbol is ashes, which are ancient signs of penance. Catholics place ashes on their foreheads at the beginning of Lent as an outward sign of repentance.[7]
  • The incense used in the Catholic Church symbolizes prayers rising to heaven. It is also used to bless and purify.[2]
  • Scholars note that Catholicism spread largely because of the work of Roman road-builders.[2]
  • While the exact date of the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church is indeterminable, the Church can trace its origin to Jesus of Nazareth during the period of Roman occupation in early A.D. 30.[2]
  • The Big-Bang theory was proposed by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre.[7]
  • Interesting Famous Catholics Fact
    A Catholic proposed the Big Bang theory

  • The earliest reference to infant baptism was by Irenaeus (130–202) in his work Against Heresies.[7]
  • The word “Christian” was initially a derogatory name. The new religion appealed largely to the urban poor, women, non-citizens, social outcasts, and slaves because the essence of the Gospel was that they did not need money or education to belong to the kingdom.[2]
  • The Catholic Church has seven sacraments (baptism, penance, confirmation, holy orders, the Eucharist (Holy Communion), matrimony, and anointing of the sick). The word “sacrament” is from the Latin sacramentum, or “solemn oath.” Sacraments are symbols that connect the visible and invisible dimensions.[2]
  • Catholics believe that anyone can baptize in an emergency situation (such as a car wreck). Any person, Catholic or not, can pour the water and say the words. The only requirement is to follow the wishes of the person you are baptizing.[2]
  • The rosary is a primary signature of catholic devotion. The word “rosary” means “garland of roses.” The rose is one of the flowers used to symbolize the Virgin Mary, and the prayer of the rosary is very closely associated with her.[7]
  • Interesting History of Catholicism Fact
    The cross is an ancient symbol
  • While the cross is a predominant Catholic symbol, it actually greatly predates Christianity and, is, in fact, one of the most ancient human symbols. It may be seen as the union of divinity (the vertical line) and the world (horizontal line).[2]
  • Catholic health care institutions serve almost 80 million patients a year in the United States. Catholic hospitals constitute more than 10% of all hospitals in the country and receive about 15% of all hospital admissions.[2]
  • Catholic hospitals employ almost 750,000 people, about 15% of all hospital employees in the United States. Their total payroll is over $20 billion.[2]
  • Catholics rely more on ritual and ceremony than do most other Christian religions. The intent of the rituals is to create an experience in which faith is felt and religion literally comes to life, with God’s presence in the here-and-now world.[2]
  • Though he never officially took the title during his lifetime, St. Peter, whose original name was Simon, was the first head of the Catholic Church, or the first pope. One of Christ’s 12 apostles, Peter preached throughout Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) before going to Rome, where Emperor Nero crucified him—upside down.[2]
  • The first Catholic pope to step down was Pontian, who headed the Catholic Church from A.D. 230–235. He was sentenced to hard labor in the Sardinian mineral mines by Emperor Maximus the Thracian, who loved to persecute Christians. The pope voluntarily stepped down to prevent a power vacuum in the Church.[7]
  • According to The Economist, spending by the Vatican and church-owned entities in the U.S. alone was about $170 billion in 2010. To put this in perspective, Slate notes that for fiscal 2012, Apple had $157 billion in revenue.[9]
  • The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the U.S.[2]
  • The molestation and rape of children by Catholic priests in America resulted in more than $3.3 billion in settlements during the past 15 years, with $1.3 billion of that in California.[6]
  • A few months after Pope Formosus (815–896) died, his cadaver was exhumed, dressed in papal vestments, put on trial for political disagreements, and judged to be unworthy of the papacy. His papal edicts were deemed invalid, the fingers he used to perform sacraments were cut off, and his body was tossed into the Tiber River.[2]
  • In 313, Emperor Constantine announced the toleration of Christianity in the Edict of Milan. He did not create the Catholic Church, as is sometimes believed.[7]
  • The Sedlec Ossuary (“Church of Bones”) is a small Roman Catholic Chapel in the Czech Republic. It uses 40,000–70,000 human skeletons as decorations.[7]
  • Interesting Church of Bones Fact
    The "Church of Bones" has unusual decor

  • Michelangelo is the most famous and most accomplished Catholic artist in history. He created the Pietà, the sculptures of David and Moses, the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the designs for St. Peter’s Basilica.[7]
  • Unlike some American Protestant or evangelical religions, the Catholic Church does not reject the theory of evolution.[2]
  • The Catholic version of the Old Testament differs from the Protestant one in that the Catholic edition has seven more books than the Protestant Bible. These “extra” books were removed during the Protestant reformation by Martin Luther—the Catholic Church did not add them as is commonly believed.[7]
  • The blessing of St. Blaise is a Catholic ceremony where a priest blesses the throats of the participants. The priest blesses that the person’s throat will be free from infections and other afflictions.[2]
  • Catholics believe that during the Eucharist (or Holy Communion), the bread and water literally become the body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation. The Eucharist is the living encounter between humanity and God and between God and his people.[7]
  • The Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world.[7]
  • Though Germanic tribes destroyed most of Roman civilization, the Catholic Church preserved much classical learning, especially in the monasteries during the Middle Ages.[2]
  • Scholars note that the Roman Catholic Church is an extension of the Roman Empire and even has a similar structure to the Roman Empire, just with different names. For example, Roman vestal virgins were renamed nuns; Roman senators were renamed cardinals; Roman governors were renamed archbishops, and so on.[2]
  • Interesting Exorcist Fact
    A Jesuit was was an adviser for The Exorcist
  • The Catholic Church has been a plot device in several horror movies, particularly The Exorcist. The Church actually participated with the production. The technical advisor was Rev. William O’Malley, a Jesuit priest and teacher.[5]
  • John F. Kennedy was the only Catholic president in American history.[2]
  • Approximately 3% of Iraq is Catholic. The Catholic Church has been in Iraq for 400 years.[2]
  • The number of Catholic nuns has fallen dramatically, from a million worldwide in 1973 to just 710,000 today.[8]
  • Vatican Council II (1962–1965) was the 21st general or ecumenical council of the Catholic Church and is considered by many as the most significant religious event since the 16th century Reformation. Unlike previous councils which had been called to combat heresy or deal with some threat to the Church, this council’s aim was to promote peace and unity.[7]

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