Pope Benedict XVI is due to make this week a visit to Mexico and Cuba, which begins on March 23 and continues until March 29. He comes to mark the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain, as well as the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of "Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre" in Cuba.
For the occasion, statistics have been published about the Catholic Church in the two countries from the Central Statistical Office of the Catholic Church. Each country has distinct challenges for the worldwide church. Cuba, which is officially atheist, nonetheless has been increasingly open to reforms that will allow further influence for the church on the island. Just weeks ago, Cuba's foreign minister joined his Venezuelan counterpart at a Catholic mass in Havana where the archbishop prayed for the recovery of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez following treatment for cancer.
Mexico, which is largely Catholic and is the center of the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, long had a government that was hostile to Catholic religion and which suppressed its priests and other religious even though the government was officially non-sectarian. Reforms came during the administration of President Vicente Fox, whose wife is a devout Catholic, that lifted restriction imposed in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution of 100 years ago. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Mexico has seen the rise of various Christian ecclesial communities, even while the emergence of pagan death cults present an increasing challenge to Christian faith throughout the country. Narcoterrorists, and even some members of the country's security forces, are fervent devotees of the cult of 'Saint Death': a spectral figure that is invoked to protect them and provide wealth and virility.
Mexico has a population of 108,426,000 people, of whom 99,635,000 (91.89 percent) are counted as Catholic. There are 93 dioceses and jurisdiction, 6,744 parishes and 7,169 pastoral centers of other kinds. Currently, there are 163 bishops, 16,234 priests, 30,023 religious, 505 members of secular institutes, 25,846 lay missionaries and 295,462 catechists. Minor seminarians number 4,524 and major seminarians 6,495. Mexico's Catholics also send missionaries to countries outside the region.
A total of 1,856,735 students attend 8,991 Catholic schools and universities, as well as 1,822 other education centers. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Mexico include 257 hospitals, 1,602 clinics, 8 leper colonies, 372 homes for the elderly or disabled, 329 orphanages and nurseries, 2,134 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers, and 340 institutions of other kinds.
The island republic of Cuba has a population of 11,242,000, of whom 6,766,000 (60.19 percent) are counted as Catholic. There are 11 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 304 parishes and 2,210 pastoral centers of other kinds. Currently, there are 17 bishops, 361 priests, 656 religious, 24 members of secular institutes, 2,122 lay missionaries and 4,133 catechists. Minor seminarians number 13 and major seminarians 78. A total of 1,113 students attend 12 centers of Catholic education of all levels and 10 special education centers. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Cuba include 2 clinics, 8 homes for the elderly or disabled, 3 orphanages and nurseries, and 3 institutions of other kinds, as well as a leper colony.
Cuba also has a vibrant community claiming Afro-Cuban practices, as do other Caribbean countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.