The New Evangelization - Europe

- Republic in the Balkans, bordering the Adriatic Sea: capital, Tirana. Christianity  was introduced in apostolic times. In the schism of 1054, the north remained faithful to Rome, while the south went Orthodox. From the 15th century, occupation by the Ottoman Turks resulted in a Muslim majority. The Communist takeover in 1945 brought systematic persecution to the Church and all religions, with prison, death, and other repressive measures and Church personnel. In 1990, twenty-three years after a government announcement that Albania was the first atheist state in the world, the right to practice religion was restored. In 1991, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were restored. Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1993 and ordained four bishops. The first Albania cardinal was named in 1994. Although Catholics remain a minority, they are respected for their contributions to education and health care. Catholics make up 15.7% of the population.

  Andorra – Parliamentary state in the Pyrenees: capital, Andorra la Vella. From 1278-1993, it was a co-principality under the French head of state and the bishop of Urgel, Spain. Christianity was introduced early. The state religion is Catholicism, though freedom of worship guaranteed to other religions. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction is under the Spanish Diocese of Urgel. Catholics are 94% of the population

Austria - Republic in central Europe: capital, Vienna. Christianity was introduced by the end of the third century, and strengthened in the sixth century by the conversion of Bavaria. Catholicism became the principle religion, surviving  the Reformation, but it was beset in the 18th century by  Josephinism (rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment, introduced by Emperor Joseph II). After the revolution of 1848, the Church suffered government harrassment, then again 20 years later in the Kulturcampf. After World War I, the Church faced opposition from Socialists, and from 1938 to 1945, persecution by the Nazis. In recent years, the Church in Austria has had internal difficulties, with movements for lay participation in government, ordination of women, and against priestly celibacy. Under Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, some unity has been restored. Catholics are 74.4% of the population.


Belarus – Independent republic in eastern Europe: capital, Minsk. Before 1991, it was the Soviet republic of Byelorussia. In 1992 it established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, but the government is still not friendly to Catholicism. After years of repression by the Soviet government, when more than 90% of Catholic churches were destroyed or profaned, permission to build new churches is hard to obtain. One objective of the new bishops' conference is reconciliation with the Orthodox. But the most urgent problem is lack of Catholic clergy. Foreign clergy are restricted in number and there is just one seminary. However, a second seminary is anticipated, and religious orders are growing.   Church marriages are on the increase, and attendance at catechism classes grows exponentially. Catholics are now at 10% of the population.

Belgium – Constitutional monarchy NW Europe. Christianity introduced early 4th century, with major evangelization complete by 730. During Middle Ages, Church was well organized, with vigorous monastic life and good monastic and cathedral schools. Protestants made some inroads at Reformation, but Catholic restoration in 17th century when country ruled by Spain. Church disturbed in 18th century by Jansenism. Repressed during Napoleonic conquest. Revolution of 1830 freed Church from state control, but then faced philosophical liberalism and political socialism. The current moral decline in society has had repercussions in the Church, in indifference to the papacy and dissent from Church teachings. Catholics 79% of population.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Independent republic SE Europe, formerly part of Yugoslavia: capital, Sarajevo. Christianity was introduced in the 8th century. Since the dividing line between Eastern and Western Empires ran through Bosnia, Orthodoxy and Catholicism are both strongly represented. And the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century introduced Islam among the inhabitants. After independence was declared in 1992, the ensuing violence forced many thousands of Catholics to flee their homes, as also Muslims in 1999. The tension between Orthodox, Catholics, and Muslims continues. Medjugorje, a parish near Sarajevo, is the site of the alleged Marian apparitions. Catholics are 12% of the population.

Bulgaria – Republic in SE Europe, on the eastern part of the Balkan peninsula: capital, Sofia. Most of the population is Orthodox.. Christianity was introduced early in the 4th century, but disappeared in the 7th century with the incursion of Slavs (Bulgars) into the area. The baptism of Boris I , in 865, restored Christianity, with some division in loyalties between Rome and Constantinople. The latter faction was stronger, and the country went Orthodox at the schism of 1054. In 1396 Bulgaria fell to the Ottoman Turks, under whose rule Orthodoxy survived. In the 19th century a movement for reunion with Rome produced a small Byzantine Catholic Church. The country became independent in 1908. In both World Wars, it fought on the losing side, until the end of WWII, when Bulgaria joined the Allies under Soviet pressure. From 1947 it had a Communist government. Catholic schools were abolished. The apostolic delegate was expelled. Bishop Eugene Bossilkoff was imprisoned in 1948, and sentenced to death in 1952. (He was beatified in 1998.) There was some improvement in relations with Rome in 1975. In 1979, a bishop was appointed for a vacant see. Diplomatic relations with Rome were established in 1990. The government instituted religion classes in state schools, but with no Catholic input. Catholics are 1% of the population.

Croatia – Republic SE Europe, formerly part of Yugoslavia: capital, Zagreb. Christianity was introduced to Dalmatia in apostolic times. The Croats, entering the land in the 7th century, learned of Christ and became the first Slavs to embrace Christianity. Ethnic conflicts in the 1990s set Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs against each other. Catholics are 81% of the population.

Cyprus – Republic in E Mediterranean: capital, Nicosia. Christianity was introduced in apostolic times, and has had a continuous history there from the 4th century. Latin and Eastern were rites established, but the latter prevailed, and Cyprus became Orthodox from the schism in 1054. Christians suffered under Turkish domination from the late 16th to the late 19th century. Catholics, under the jurisdiction of the Maronite Archdiocese of Cipro (Nicosia), make up 2.2% of population.

Czech Republic – Independent state, formerly part of Czechoslovakia: capital, Prague. Christianity spread as result of the martyrdom of Prince Wenceslaus in 929. Prague has been a diocese since 973. The parish system was organized in the 13th century in Bohemia and Moravia. Relations with the Latin rite were strengthened by mendicant orders in the 13th century. In the 14th century, schism and heresy were spread by the teachings of John Hus (burned at stake, 1415). The majority of the population left the Catholic Church to become Bohemian Brethren. The Counter-Reformation, begun in the 1560s, led to a gradual restoration of many to the Church. In 1920, a schismatic Czechoslovak Church was formed, which again drew many away from the Catholic Church. In 1948, with a Communist takeover, government persecution began. Catholic schools and hospitals were nationalized, bishops and priests put on trial, and there was another attempt to form a national church. In 1950, diplomatic relations with the Holy See were broken off, and Eastern Catholics were pressured to join the Orthodox Church.

In 1968, government hostility lessened, with reinstatement of some bishops and priests. The Eastern Catholic Church was reestablished. Yet government restrictions continued to hamper the work of the Church. The Communist government fell in 1989. In 1990, bishops were appointed to empty sees, diplomatic relations with the Vatican were restored, and the country received a visit from Pope John Paul II. Catholics are 39% of the population.

Denmark – Constitutional monarchy in NW Europe: capital, Copenhagen. Christianity was introduced in the 9th century, with the first diocese in 831. Intensive evangelization, with full organization of the Church began in the 10th century, with increasing development in the 12th and 13th centuries. Then the Reformation swept the country, and Lutheranism became the state religion. A few Catholic families remained faithful down through the centuries, until religious freedom was declared in the 19th century. Immigration has increased the small number of Catholics.

In the Danish province of Greenland (NE of North America), Catholicism was introduced about 1000. The first diocese was established in 1124. Greenland had the first known churches in the western hemisphere, dating from the 11th century. The Catholic Church disappeared with the departure of Scandinavians and the spread of the Reformation. The country is now mainly Evangelical Lutheran. A number of priests have been there since 1930, under the Copenhagen Diocese. Catholics are .6% of the population of Denmark, including Greenland.

England – Center of United Kingdom (which includes Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland), off NW coast of Europe: capital, London. Christianity was established among the Celts in Britain by the 4th century. Anglo-Saxon invaders from Germany were evangelized by St. Augustine of Canterbury, sent by Pope Gregory I (597). In 663, the Celtic Christians came under papal authority. In the 780s the Church was decimated by the Danish invasion, but recovered under Alfred the Great. The whole country was Christianized by the mid-10th century. The Norman Conquest (1066) opened the English Church to fuller European influence. In the 14th century, John Wycliff questioned papal authority, presaging the Reformation. When Henry VIII was denied (1529) his appeal to Rome for annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he rejected papal authority over the English Church, declared himself its head, suppressed houses of religion, and persecuted those who refused assent to his claims. Under Edward VI, Protestant doctrines were introduced through the Book of Common Prayer. Mary Tudor’s Catholic restoration (1553-58) failed, due to popular reaction against the execution of so many Protestants. Elizabeth I (1558-1603) helped organize the now separated Church of England, with its own hierarchy, laws, and articles of faith. Priests and missionaries from France, attempting to revive Catholicism, were executed for treason. Apostolic vicariates represented the Catholic Church in England from 1685 till 1850, when the Catholic hierarchy was restored. In 1829, full citizenship was restored to Catholics, though with continuing restrictions on public worship. In the 20th century, the Catholic Church increased in size, and closer relations between Catholics and Anglicans gave hope for eventual reunion, until the English Church began ordaining women in 1994. Catholics are 8.3% of population.

Estonia – An independent Baltic republic: capital, Tallinn. Formerly belonging to the USSR, Estonia regained independence 1991. Catholicism was introduced in the 11th or 12th century. Jurisdiction was made directly subject to the Holy See in 1215. Lutheranism became widespread at the Reformation, and Russian Orthodox was strong from the 18th century till 1917, when independence attained. The first apostolic administrator was appointed in 1924. The small Catholic community was hard-pressed during Soviet occupation (1941-91). Since independence, Catholic community has worked to restore Catholic theology and education. In 1999 an agreement was reached between the Holy See and Estonia, with guarantees that the Church could name its own bishops and foreign priests could work in the country. Catholics are .43% of the population.

Finland – Republic in northern Europe: capital, Helsinki. Evangelized by Swedes in the 12th century. In the 16th century, Lutheranism was embraced by the state and Catholicism was forbidden (1595). Catholics were given religious liberty in 1781, but missionaries and conversions were forbidden. An apostolic vicariate was set up in 1920, and became a diocese in 1955. Catholics are just .01% of population.

France – Republic in western Europe: capital, Paris. Christianity was introduced by the 2nd century. By the mid-3rd century, there were 30 dioceses. Invasions by Vandals and Franks brought barbarism and doctrinal confusion (Arianism). The Frankish nation chose the Catholic Faith when their king, Clovis, was baptized in 496. From then, the Catholic Church was central to the life of France until the 18th century. The University of Paris was one of the intellectual centers of the Middle Ages. Avignon was the residence of popes and the curia for most of the 14th century. Calvinism was introduced in the 16th century and won many converts. In the next century, it was Jansenism, followed by the Enlightenment in the 18th century. The Revolution, followed by the Napoleonic period, brought persecution and defections from the Church. In the 19th century, the Church continued to be a target of official hostility. In the 20th century, the Church struggled with liberalism, the alienation of intellectuals, and the estrangement of the working classes. Catholics are 79% of the population.

Germany – Republic in Central Europe: capital, Berlin. Christianity was introduced at least by the 3rd century. Trier, the center of missionary work, had a bishop by 400. Invading Visigoths brought Arianism in the 5th century, but were converted in the 7th century by Celtic and other missionaries. In the 8th century, St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany, achieved ecclesiastical organization. A dual role assumed by bishops, as temporal rulers as well as spiritual, led to the investiture conflict, in which secular rulers tried to appoint bishops. The Church was strong in the Middle Ages, but abuses developed preparing the ground for the Reformation. From 1517, Martin Luther turned Germany into a confessional battleground. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) ended with the Peace of Westphalia, which allowed princes to decide the religion of their states. In spite of the Catholic Counter Reformation, by the end of the 16th century 70% of north and central Germany were Lutheran. In the 19th century, the Church suffered political antagonism and lost some property through secularization. In the 20th century, it faced the trial of Nazism. After WWII, East Germany, under Soviet control, imposed restrictions on the Church, limited religious formation, and substituted Communist ceremonies for Christian sacraments. The number of priests declined. With the reunification of Germany in 1990, episcopal conferences, east and west, were united as well. Germany hosted the 20th World Youth Day in August of 2005. Catholics are 33.2% of the population.