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sing a new church into being

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 08, 2005

George Weigel provides an interesting synopsis of David Barrett's "Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission":

Of the 6.4 billion people on Planet Earth, some 2.1 billion, or 33.1 percent, are Christians of one sort or another. As there were only some 558 million Christians in the world in 1900, the absolute growth of Christianity is, as I say, impressive. But because world population has grown at a somewhat faster pace than Christianity, Christianity's relative position has slipped a bit since 1900, when Christians represented some 34.5 percent of world population. ...

Europe, including Russia, still claims the largest absolute number of Christians (531 million); but Europe is also the only continent where Christian numbers are declining now and will likely decline for the foreseeable future. ...

Meanwhile, the world Islamic population is expected to climb from 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion -- almost certainly because of higher birthrates rather than conversions, but the fact remains that Christianity is growing at a decidedly slower pace than the other great world religions with global, culture-forming claims and ambitions.

Nicholas Eberstadt reminds us that "the future belongs to the fertile," and that's very, very bad news for Christianity in Europe.

The Mystical Body of Christ, of course, is not tied to any particular population center or demographic trend, and will remain what it is forever. But the familiar trappings of christendom have provided an outward image of the inner stability, and it's disconcerting to consider that the great cathedrals of Chartres and Paris and Cologne -- and yes, perhaps even St. Peter's Basilica -- may be transformed into Muslim middle schools or discount auto parts stores before the end of the century. The 14th century saw seven popes exiled to Avignon, and it's perfectly possible that the Imam of Lazio will make free with the scimitar; that the papal seat will move to Elkhart, Indiana; that the future Bishop of Rome will pray the Angelus -- in Vietnamese-accented Spanish -- from the porch of a pre-fab cathedral formed by two double-wide modular homes. It worked for Pope Clement V, why not Pope John Paul V?

Dyed-in-the-Dacron Rahnerians can look upon the mujaheedin in the grainy videos -- clutching a dripping infidel head in either hand -- as "anonymous Christians," and thus won't be stirred from their languor by the demographics -- just a matter of empowering indigenous awareness of self-transcendence. No doubt there'll be an apertura alla shi'a evident among the bishops gathered for the First Council of Elkhart. I wonder what editors of Stimmen der Zeit will have to say on the matter.

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