Across the world, according to a recent statistical study released by the Vatican (Segreteria di Stato Vaticano 2022; 2019), the number of Catholics world-wide increased from an approximate 16 million in 2020, to 1.36 billion in 2022. While about 48% of the world’s Catholics are situated at the Americas, the Catholic Church grew the most rapidly in Africa, with a 2.1% increase, with Asia, coming a close second with a 1.8% growth. On the other hand, the growth of the Catholic Church in Europe was numbered at 0.3% (Catholic News Agency, 2022). Based on these trends, 75% of Catholics are predicted to be situated outside of the West, once a custodian of Catholicity and culture, by the year 2050 (Llywelyn, 2022). Nonetheless, these numbers do not mean that we can rest on our laurels.

With these new grounds and territories, the challenge for the Church is to thus make the Good News and the message of the Church accessible and relevant to the new sensibilities of digitally immersed natives, who have their lives forged in the highly globalised and connected, and technologically advanced world of the 21st century. At the same time, there arises the challenge of engaging with peoples who have had their own rich cultural heritages from the parts of the world that they belong to (Pontifical Council for Culture, 1999). The invitation thus is for local Churches to study deeply, the cultures, customs, and religious practices of the local regions, so as to better position and root Christianity more deeply in the local contexts (Pontifical Council for Culture, 1999, 26.) Important as well, is the need to dialogue with these cultures so as to bring about inculturation, while being highly aware of the dangers of syncreticism (Pope Paul VI, 1965a, 16-22).

Culture is such a huge aspect of someone’s life, that Faith and Culture cannot be considered isolated of each other. Culture radiates from the very core of a person’s being, permeates every fabric of his or her life, and informs our upbringing, while shaping our perceptions and engagements of things around us. Culture is informed by history, societal mores and norms, juridic institutions, and develops in the social dimensions of a person. As Gaudium et spes acknowledges, “Man comes to a true and full humanity only through culture, that is through the cultivation of the goods and values of nature. Wherever human life is involved, therefore, nature and culture are quite intimately connected one with the other.” (1965, 53.) For the sake of this writing, the term, “culture” is used to speak about – the indigenous socio-cultural lives of the peoples of various tribes, races, and ethnicities living in society, but not Catholic; and also of prevailing philosophies that shape this current epoch.

At the root of the world’s great religions, formed in the crucible of Cultures across the world, is a naturally occurring search for Truth, Identity, and ultimately of God (International Theological Commission, 1988). This is echoed in the encyclical Fides et Ratio, “In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more deeply.” (1998, 1) Cognizant of this, the Church recognises that embedded in the call of Christ to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20), is the mystery of the Incarnation – “Christ [bound] Himself, in virtue of His Incarnation, to certain social and cultural conditions of those human beings among whom He dwelt.” (International Theological Commission, 1988, 12.) God becomes man and enters the cultural activity of man, so as to reveal God the Father to humanity, to perfect existing culture, and to extend an invitation to us to enter the new culture of the Kingdom of Heaven – as John the Baptist did in pointing out the Lamb of God, preparing the way for a new order of which things are meant to unfold, and who says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)

The question for the Catholic today, then resides in how we may follow the example of Christ in directing people to encounter God our Father, then next proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and that Jesus came into the world for us, died for us, and rose from the dead so as to redeem humanity in full. At the crux today, is how the Catholic meets, holds space for, navigates, and evangelises the already baptised Catholic, and having been nourished within the community, goes forth to evangelise the rest of the world. This evangelisation requires a sensitivity and a tender discernment, for the tendency is that in our zeal to speak the language of the people, the Gospel is completely subsumed into the secular cultures of today. It is important thus for those who have taken up the role of evangelisation, to ensure that while the Gospel is proclaimed to a humanity that is inevitably interwoven with Culture, the Gospel must be able to permeate every facet of culture, without losing its bearings and end up being put under subjugation by culture. (Pope Paul VI, 1975, 20.)

Pope St. John Paul II writes eloquently about the fine balance that the Church must thread in approaching the cultures of the world, and the cultures of our time –

“The Church respects all cultures and imposes on no one her faith in Jesus Christ, but she invites all people of good will to promote a true civilization of love, founded on the evangelical values of brotherhood, justice and dignity for all.

All this demands a new approach of cultures, attitudes, behaviours, aimed at in-depth dialogue with cultural centres and at rendering fruitful their meeting with the message of Christ. This work demands also on the part of responsible Christians a faith illumined by continual reflection confronted with the sources of the Church’s message, and a continual spiritual discernment pursued in prayer.” (1985, 3-4)

The unfortunate thing is that the secular world tends to be treated as principal and paramount. This causes the teachings of the Church to become functionalised and to adopt the vocabularies of the world –  The Gospel becomes separated from cultural traditions, ethics, lifestyles, and how we interact with each other (Russello, 2014). Perhaps, the reason why we are encountering such mediocrity from our evangelisation efforts, is because Catholics themselves are not really living out a culture that is Catholic. The majority of Catholics are unformed, and easily swayed by the misinformation that floats around; few actually read and reflect upon the Word of God; yet many more are not journeying in a community. Still more, have not had a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus.

To be Catholic is so much more than just attending the Sunday Eucharistic Celebrations; and to be Catholic is not really a lifestyle, in the sense of the word referring to some fashionable fad. Faith and Life are not distinct entities that run on parallel paths, but our lives should be God-centred, revolving around, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. Yet this is not the case for many Catholics today.  The caveat is that Catholic Culture actually starts from the home. If the parents are not on board in bringing up their children to love the Church and her teachings, it would be even harder to retain these children in the Church when they have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Our homes are where we live out the tenets of our Faith on a daily basis. This is augmented by the schools that we send our Catholic children to. Increasingly, the trend is to send our Catholic children to schools that are non-Catholic. It is a chicken-and-egg issue. Due to the changing demographics of the population, Catholic parents are increasingly shifting away from the vicinities of Catholic schools into the newer towns and suburbs, which do not have these Catholic schools built there; Catholic educators are themselves shying away from teaching in a Catholic school; funding, support, and remuneration tend to be shoddy for the Catholic Educators who make a conscious effort to teach in a Catholic school; while parents do not see the need to make their homes centred on God, telling their children that it is more important to study for the examination, than to head to church for the Eucharistic Celebration.  Catholic programming in Catholic schools is also often sacrificed for secular programmes. It is a spiral that takes us further and further away from our core as Catholics.

  • What is the Culture like in our parishes and Catholic schools and institutions?
  • What is the Culture like at home?
  • What is the Culture that we are building up, for ourselves as Catholics, and for those around us?

Some thoughts:

“Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”
― Charles A. Coulombe, Puritan’s Empire

“A Catholic culture does not mean or imply universality. A nation or a whole civilization is of the Catholic culture not when it is entirely composed of strong believers minutely practicing their religion, nor even whit it boasts a majority of such, but when it presents a determining number of units-family institutions, individuals, inspired by and tenacious of the Catholic spirit.”
― Hilaire Belloc, The Crisis Of Civilization

In summary, Pope Francis reminds us,

“Contemporary society and its predominant cultural models — the culture of the provisional — does not offer a suitable climate for the formation of stable life choices, with solid bonds, built on a rock of love and responsibility rather than the sand of the emotions of the moment. The aspiration to individual autonomy reaches the point of always putting everything in discussion and with relative ease breaking important and long-meditated decisions, life paths taken freely with commitment and dedication. This promotes superficiality in the assumption of responsibilities, since in the depths of the heart they risk becoming considered as something from which one can in any case be freed.” (2014, 4.)


The Catholic is called to be of the world, but apart from it. All too often, it is the Catholic who is influenced by the culture of the world. It is on us to have a paradigm shift, and to change this.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan


Further Readings:

Goh, W. (September 13, 2018). Charity the Ultimate Principle in Applying all Laws. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. Retrieved January 19, 2023 from

Tan, B. B. (November 2, 2021). Of the World, but set apart from it: Inculturation and its Dis-contents. Church of St. Michael. Retrieved January 19, 2023 from



Catholic News Agency. (2022). Vatican: Number of Catholics worldwide rose by 16 million in 2020. Catholic News Agency. Retrieved January 19, 2023 from

International Theological Commission. (1988). Faith and Inculturation. Libreria Editrice Vatican. Retrieved from

Llywelyn, D. (2022). Global Christianity. How population and demographic shifts are shaping the future of the Catholic Church. Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC. Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Science. University of Southern California. Retrieved January 19, 2022 from

Pontifical Council for Culture. (1999). Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Pope Francis. (2014). Address of Pope Francis: Meeting with the Young People of the Dioceses of Abruzzi and Molise. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Pope Paul VI. (1965a). Ad Gentes. [Decree]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Pope Paul VI. (1965). Gaudium et spes. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Pope Paul VI. (1975). Evangelii Nuntiandi. [Apostolic Exhortation]. Libre Editrice Vatican. Retrieved from

Pope St. John Paul II. (1985). Evangelising Today’s Culture. [Address]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Pope St. John Paul II. (1998). Fides et Ratio. [Encyclical Letter]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Russello, G. J. (2014). Creating Catholic Culture. [Book Review]. National Catholic Register. Retrieved January 19, 2023 from

Segreteria di Stato Vaticano. (2022). Annuario Pontificio 2022.  Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Segreteria di Stato Vaticano. (2019). Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2019 / Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2019 . Libreria Editrice Vaticana.