Bishops seeking to revive Catholicism are worried by Islam

Pope Benedict XVI

A drive to rekindle Roman Catholicism's missionary zeal is struggling to counter the challenge of Islam, a religion with an arguably more direct message and a greater institutional hold on its faithful.

Bishops who have been meeting for three weeks to plot a way forward for a Church whose membership is dwindling in Europe are concerned by Islam's growth and worried about Christian minorities in Muslim countries, according to participants' comments released by the Vatican.

Islam was barely mentioned in preparatory documents for the Synod on New Evangelisation, a meeting in Rome of 262 prelates from around the world been held behind closed doors.

But one participant said it had become the buzzword of the synod that ends this weekend.

It's no surprise that Islam has taken on such importance during this synod, French-born Bishop Paul Desfarges, who heads the diocese of Constantine in Algeria, told journalists in Rome this week. It's an issue that concerns Europe.

Christianity, with about 2 billion followers, is the world's largest religion and Catholicism - its biggest denomination by far - makes up just over half that total.

But some estimates suggest that the 1.3 billion Muslims, four-fifths of them outside the Arab world, are growing in number much faster than Christians, whose numbers are shrinking in their European heartland.

We need a much more developed analysis and discussion of the consequences of the Islamic presence in the Western world, Sydney Cardinal George Pell said.

Political boost for Islam

Some of the Arab Spring uprisings that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East have propelled Islam onto the political stage.

Kyrillos William, the Catholic Coptic bishop of Assiut, painted a stark picture of the situation facing Egypt's large Christian minority - about 10 percent of the population - since the upheavals of the Arab Spring.

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