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Where in the world is Catholic Mass attendance highest?

Gdzie i kiedy klękać w kościele

Wirestock Creators | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 01/25/23

Surveys show Africa is leading in church participation by Catholic faithful.

The nation with the best Catholic Mass attendance in the world could be Nigeria, according to a new study published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

When asked the question “Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?” 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass. 

The poll was conducted by the World Values Survey, which began tracking the data in the 1980s and has statistics for 36 countries with large Catholic populations.

CARA, which gathered the results, said it’s not known exactly which country has the highest Mass attendance rate, “because surveys have not been conducted on the topic in every country in the world.” Thus, for example, a country such as Malta is not on this list, but census data shows that as many as 40% of Catholics there go to Mass weekly.

But among those surveyed by WVS, aside from Nigeria, weekly or more frequent Mass attendance is highest among adult self-identified Catholics in Kenya (73%) and Lebanon (69%). 

Latin America, and yes, Europe too

“The next segment of countries, where half or more Catholics attend every week, includes the Philippines (56%), Colombia (54%), Poland (52%), and Ecuador (50%),” CARA, which is based at Georgetown University, said.

“Fewer than half, but a third or more attend every week in Bosnia and Herzegovina (48%), Mexico (47%), Nicaragua (45%), Bolivia (42%), Slovakia (40%), Italy (34%), and Peru (33%).”

It added that between three in 10 and a quarter of Catholics attend Mass every week in Venezuela (30%), Albania (29%), Spain (27%), Croatia (27%), New Zealand (25%), and the United Kingdom (25%).

Pre- and post-pandemic

Catholics in the United States come in next, with about 24% attending Mass every week or more often prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In our most recent poll in late summer 2022, 17% of adult Catholics reported attending Mass this frequently with 5% watching Mass online or television from home instead,” CARA said.

Other countries with similar Catholic Mass attendance to the United States are Hungary (24%), Slovenia (24%), Uruguay (23%), Australia (21%), Argentina (21%), Portugal (20%), the Czech Republic (20%), and Austria (17%), the center said.

The lowest levels of weekly attendance are observed in Lithuania (16%), Germany (14%), Canada (14%), Latvia (11%), Switzerland (11%), Brazil (8%), France (8%), and the Netherlands (7%).

Not necessarily “religious”

Surprisingly, however, it’s not necessarily the case that Catholics who consider themselves more religious are more likely to be frequent Mass attenders.

Lebanon, for example, has high Mass attendance, but the share of Catholics there considering themselves to be religious is substantially lower in comparison to other countries. And 97% of Catholics in Uruguay consider themselves to be a religious person — yet only 23% of Catholics there attend Mass weekly or more often. 

Other than Uruguay, the countries where Catholics are most likely to consider themselves to be religious are Nigeria (95%), Albania (94%), Slovakia (93%), the Czech Republic (92%), Italy (92%), Lithuania (92%), Kenya (92%), Colombia (92%), Bolivia (91%), and Poland (90%). 

Correlation with wealth

CARA also noticed some correlation between economic factors and Mass attendance and concluded that Catholicism is strongest in what is often called the developing world, where GDP per capita is lower.

“It appears to be contracting in wealthier ‘developed’ countries,” the center said. “The precise mechanisms associated with economic development and wealth that are impacting Catholics’ participation in the faith and identification as religious are unclear. Whatever they are, they matter significantly.”

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