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Belgium sees decline in Mass attendance, but not Catholic identity

St. Charles Borromeo Church, Antwerp, Belgium

Andrei Antipov | Shutterstock

October 22, 2023: a large gathering for Sunday Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church/

J-P Mauro - published on 11/20/23

2022 saw a rebound of church participation after the pandemic years, but 2023 is expected to decline in certain areas.

The Catholic Church in Belgium has released its annual report, measuring a variety of aspects  from rates of Mass attendance to the number of active priests and more. Among its findings, the report noted a bounce back from the pandemic years, but an overall decrease in participation in the Mass

The Church in Belgium had a hard time in 2020 and 2021, when isolation orders and restrictions on gatherings kept the faithful from the pews. In 2022, it saw a rebound in participation, with baptisms rising by 17%, and Christmas Mass attendance increased by 18% from 2021. Marriages in particular saw a 72% increase in 2022, but the report notes that many of these were rescheduled from the COVID-19 years, and the marriage rate is expected to return to normal in 2024.

The report found that since 2017, a span of six years, the nation has lost 915 diocesan priests, currently at 1,859. In that same timeframe, the rate of weekly Mass attendance has fallen by an average of 113,000. Despite this distinct diminishment, the rate at which Belgians claim Catholicism as their faith has gone largely unchanged. Similarly, retreat houses and pilgrimage sites have continued to enjoy a healthy amount of traffic. This dichotomy led Catherine Chevalier, theologian at UC Louvain, who participated in the development of the report, to state:

“There are like two circles. A close circle, which is more fragile, and a wide circle which remains very present and which shows that the spiritual question remains important for our contemporaries. At the same time, the gap between these two groups poses a major question: how to manage the proclamation of the Gospel in the face of such diversity?”

The decrease in Mass-goers was mirrored by a decrease in the number of parishes within Belgium. However, the report was quick to note that many parishes have grouped together to ease the workload of their priests, rather than the parishes disappearing. 

See the full report at Cathobel, the official website of the Catholic Church in French-speaking Belgium. 

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