The New Evangelization - America

Antigua and Barbuda – Independent island nation in the Caribbean: capital, St. John's, Antigua. The Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre includes, besides Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat. Catholics are 12.5% of the population.

Argentina – Republic SE South America, on the Atlantic coast: capital, Buenos Aires. Priests accompanied Magellan’s party, and the first Mass was celebrated in 1519. Missionary work began in the 1530s, diocesan organization in the 1540s, and effective evangelization around 1570. Independence from Spain was declared in 1816. The Church continued to be affected by Spanish culture and institutions, antagonistic liberalism, and government interference. Opposition from the government was especially evident in the first presidency of Juan Peron (1946-1955). Under military rule (1976-1983), the Church condemned human rights violations, and criticized government corruption and severe economic policy in the 1990s. Catholics make up 92% of the population.

Bahamas – Independent group of some 700 islands (30 inhabited) SE of Florida: capital, Nassau. Columbus landed on one of these, in 1492, where the first Mass was celebrated in the New World. The Catholic Church became organized in the Bahamas in the mid-19th century. Catholics make up 15% of population.

Barbados – Parliamentary democracy; easternmost of Caribbean islands: capital, Bridgetown. 70% of the population is Anglican; 3.8% are Catholic.

Belize – Republic on east coast of Central America: capital, Belmopan. In pre-Columbian times, the territory of Mayan people. Evangelization began with Spanish occupation in 1524. The first diocese for all Central America, administered from Guatemala, was established in 1534. The British founded a settlement on the Belize River. When Spain lost control of Central America, England asserted her own rights, claiming control of what was then called "British Honduras." The country gained independence in 1981. Catholics are 52% of the population.

Bermuda – British dependency of 360 islands (20 inhabited), 600 miles east of Cape Hatteras: capital, Hamilton. Catholics were excluded till 1800. During the 19th century, the few Catholics were ministered to by visiting priests. Early in the 20th century, priests from Nova Scotia served there. An apostolic prefecture was established 1953. It was made an apostolic vicariate in 1956, when the first bishop assumed jurisdiction. A diocese was established in 1967. Catholics are 16% of the population.

Bolivia – Republic in central South America: capital, Sucre; seat of government, La Paz. Catholicism, the state religion, was introduced in the 1530s, and the first diocese was established in 1552. Evangelization among the Indians bore much fruit from the mid-18th to early 19th century, resuming again in 1840. The country declared independence from Spain in 1825. Relations between Church and state are guided by a concordat signed with the Holy See in 1951. In 1996, Pope John Paul II urged Bolivia to put drug-traffickers out of business. Catholics 89% of the population.

Brazil – Federal republic in NE South America: capital, Brasilia. With Catholics 85% of the population of 161 million, Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. The first Mass was celebrated in 1500, on Easter Sunday, by a priest in the party who claimed possession for Portugal. Evangelization began some years later, and a diocese was erected in 1551. The Church showed notable progress in the colonial period, especially 1680-1750, even though hampered by government policy. The Church and government had contrary goals as regarding the Amazon Indians, whom the government was exploiting and reducing to slavery. In 1782, the Jesuits were suppressed, and other missionaries expelled as well. Liberal anti-clerical influence grew, and the government tightened control on the Church. After Brazil declared independence from Portugal, in 1822, government control became even tighter, under the new emperors (Pedro I & II, son and grandson of the King of Portugal). In 1891, Brazil became a republic and approved a constitution which freed the Church from state control. In the 20th century, the Church has faced other problems, such as theological liberalism, and an unorthodox mixing of Catholic ritual with rites from other sources. Church-sponsored advocates of land reform have faced harassment and murder.

Canada - Federated country in North America, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations: capital, Ottawa. The Church was planted in Canada at the beginning of French colonization in the 16th century. The first Mass was celebrated 7 July 1534 by a priest with the explorer Jacques Cartier, though Catholic history really began there in 1608 when Quebec was founded. Missionaries came to provide spiritual care in the colonies springing up around the St Lawrence River, but also to bring the faith to the Native Americans. The earliest missionaries were Franciscans (1615) and Jesuits (1625), who ministered to settlers, but worked mainly among the Indians. Sulpician Fathers, who arrived in the 1640s, also played an important part. Communities of women religious established early were Canonesses of St. Augustine and Ursulines (1639), and Hospitallers of St. John (1642). Communities of Canadian origin were the Congregation of Notre Dame (1658) and the Grey Nuns (1737). In 1658 Fr Montmorency-Laval was appointed vicar apostolic of New France and made first bishop of Quebec.

But then in 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ceded parts of eastern Canada to England, and the English acquired all of Canada through the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The new King was Protestant, and tensions developed between English and French, Anglicans and Catholics. But although Catholics in England could not worship in public, the English realized the Catholic Church was too rooted in Canada to be suppressed. After initially trying to hinder the Church in her work, the government granted Catholics religious liberties, because of the evidence they gave of their loyalty to the Crown during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. At the start of the 19th century, when rights were restored to Catholics in England, the Canadian Church spread in the English-speaking territories towards the Pacific and the North, from Newfoundland to Vancouver. The first diocese in Upper Canada (Ontario) was established in 1820, and the Diocese of Toronto in 1841, after the Act of Union (1840) joined Upper and Lower Canada together.

New religious communities arrived, including the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and spread the faith into the West. New jurisdictions were established, and Quebec became a metropolitan see in 1844. Archbishop Taschereau of Quebec was named Canada's first cardinal in 1886. In 1899 the apostolic delegation to Canada was set up, and diplomatic relations with the Vatican established in 1969. Today there are 72 dioceses in the country.

Catholics are concentrated in the eastern part, while northern and western parts include some of the most difficult parish and mission areas in the world. Bilingual differences in the population are reflected in the Church, with parallel French and English structures. Catholics are the largest religious group, making up 43% of the population.


Chile – Republic on SW coast of South America: capital, Santiago. Christianity was introduced by priests with the Spanish colonialists in the 16th century. The first parish was established in 1547 and the first diocese in 1561. Most of the native population in the northern and central regions was evangelized by 1650. The southern area proved more difficult. Church activity was hindered during the campaign for independence (1810-18) and in the first years of the new government. In the 20th century, further success was impeded by a shortage of clergy and government attempts to control Church administration. Separation of Church and state was defined by a new constitution in 1925. Relations between Church and state were strained during the Marxist presidency of Salvador Allende and under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The Church helped educated and register voters who rejected another term for Pinochet in 1988. Catholics are 75.4% of the population.

Colombia – Republic NW South America: capital, Bogota. Christianity was introduced in 1508. Two dioceses were organized in 1534. There was appreciable Church growth by the mid-17th century, in spite of the variety of Indian languages, government interference, and competition among religious orders. Some persecution followed the declaration of independence from Spain, in 1819. Guerilla warfare for radical social reform, together with violence in drug trafficking, are sources of concern to the Church, which backs social reforms, but not radical methods. Church leaders have been attacked from both sides. Catholics are 90% of the population.

Costa Rica – Republic in Central America: capital, San Jose. Mission work began in 1520, with real growth and organization in the 17th and 18th centuries. The country became independent of Spain in 1838. Twelve years later, Church jurisdiction also became independent. Catholics are 87% of the population.

Cuba – Island republic in the Caribbean, under communist dictatorship: capital, Havana. Evangelization was effectively begun in 1514, leading to predominance of Catholicism. Independence was gained from Spain in 1902. Castro took power in 1959, limiting worship and instruction to Church premises, with a resulting decline in the Catholic population. There have been some small improvements in Church-state relations since John Paul II's historic visit in 1998. Catholics are 55.2% of the population.

Dominica – Independent state in the Caribbean: capital, Roseau. Evangelization of the island began in 1642. Catholics are 79% of population.

Dominican Republic – Caribbean republic on the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola (adjacent to Haiti): capital, Santo Domingo. Evangelization began shortly after Columbus' landing in 1492. The Church was organized there by 1510. Catholicism is the state religion, with 90% of the population.