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Catholic Church facts for kids

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Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (crop)
The Catholic Church holds that Jesus Christ instituted her upon giving the keys of Heaven to Saint Peter. Represented in a painting by Pietro Perugino.

The Catholic Church is a denomination of Christianity. It is the largest denomination of Christians, with over 1 billion people in the Church. It is the world's second-largest religious group after Sunni Islam. It teaches that it is the same Church started by Jesus Christ and his followers about 2,000 years ago. The headquarters of the Catholic Church is based in the Vatican City.

The word catholic comes from the Greek word "katholicos", which means "universal." It was first used in the Nicene Creed. Often, the word Roman is added, due to its headquarters in Vatican City, which is a country in itself but is in middle of the city of Rome, Italy. Typically, people who call themselves 'Catholic' mean that they are a member of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church has members all over the world, but many Catholics live in Latin America, but also in United States, Canada, Western Europe, Southern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, India, South Korea and Oceania.

The Catholic Church is led by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who lives in Vatican City. According to Catholics, the Church guided by the Holy Spirit, who also guides the Pope. The Church teaches that when the Pope speaks officially on the subject of Catholic faith and morals ('ex cathedra') he cannot be wrong. The Popes have used this infallibility throughout history; some examples include the Tome of St. Leo, the declaration of the Immaculate Conception, and various anathemas (religious condemnations issued by the Popes against certain heresies).

The Catholic Church teaches that the first Pope was Saint Peter, because in the Gospel it is written that Jesus Christ would make Peter the "rock" (foundation) of the Church (Gospel of Matthew 16:18, you are Peter ('rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church). The current pope is Pope Francis.

Faith and morals

Like other Christians, Catholics believe Jesus Christ is a divine person, the Son of God. They believe that because of his love for all people, he died so that all of us will live forever in heaven.

The Catholic Church also recognizes the Trinity, i.e. that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are together the only God.

Catholics should follow the example of love Jesus Christ both teaches and gives: to love each other so much that one is even willing to die for another.

The Pope

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Pope, which literally means "father". Catholics say Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church, and appointed the first Pope, a disciple of his named Saint Peter, to lead all Christians.

Over the next 2,000 years, different Popes have led the church. The current Pope is the 266th and is called Francis and he lives in the Vatican City, a very small country inside the city of Rome, Italy.

For centuries, Popes have not used their birth names, but instead use a regal name. This custom started in the sixth century when a man named Mercury was elected Pope, it was seen as inappropriate to have a Pope named after a pagan god so he named himself John II, in honor of his predecessor, John I; it became customary in the tenth century. Since the death of Marcellus II 1555, every Pope has taken a Papal name.

The Catholic Church is made of 23 particular churches, otherwise known as rites, as well as being head of the Latin Rite of the church (which is the largest with over 1 billion members), the Pope is ultimately the leader of 22 Eastern Catholic Churches, these churches are of the Orthodox tradition of Christianity and it is often the case that they have broken away from their Orthodox mother church to come into communion with (join) the Pope and submit to his authority as successor of St. Peter. The Eastern Catholic Churches are based all over the world, from the United States to the Middle East to India.

Catholics believe that some of the official statements that the Pope makes about faith and morals of their religion are true and cannot be proved incorrect, an idea called infallibility. Infallibility only occurs when the Pope speaks "Ex Cathedra" which is Latin for "from the chair".

Worship practices

Some of the traditional worship practices of Roman Catholics include making the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing, and receiving the Eucharist during their worship ceremonies.

Their main form of worship is called the Mass. It is celebrated every day. Catholics are required to attend on Sunday and on a few Holy Days of obligation. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation are: Mary, Mother of God (January 1), The Assumption of Mary (August 15), The Immaculate Conception (of Mary) (December 8), The Ascension of Jesus (40 days after Easter), Christmas (December 25) and All Saints Day (November 1). These can be remembered by the following phrase: 3 for Mary, 2 for Jesus and 1 for all the saints.

While these are all practices of Roman Catholics, other Christian churches also use many or all of these same practices.

Catholics put more emphasis on the Virgin Mary (Jesus's mother) than many other Christians, calling her the "Mother of God," "The Queen of Heaven," and praying to her regularly, as "Mediatrix of graces" at a level higher than other saints.


The Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments. A sacrament is "an outward sign instituted (started) by Christ to give grace" (a supernatural gift of God that someone did nothing to deserve).

The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony (marriage). The Holy Eucharist is the most important of the sacraments, because Catholics believe that Jesus Christ becomes truly present in the form of bread and wine. This happens through transubstantiation which takes place in the Mass.

Catholics believe in the necessity of love, hope and faith in order to gain salvation, but that these all come from grace. This is different from the 16th century interpretation created by Luther.

Catholics interpret the Bible (God-given book) according to Tradition. Tradition is the transmission of the early church's life and teaching, as especially recorded in the writings of the Fathers of the Church who lived in the first centuries. At that time the holy books where accepted in the Bible, which is the collection of the books considered revealed.

A basic rule for Catholics is that "Truth cannot contradict truth". They translate the Bible with this in mind. No interpretation can be accepted if it contradicts another revealed truth.

Nicene Creed

Catholics, like many Christians, accept the Nicene Creed, a combination of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) and the later Council of Constantinople (AD 382) as true:

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through Him all things were made. For us men and our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again in fulfilment of the scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Eastern Orthodox and Protestant people believe many of the same things. They sometime disagree on the role of Mary (the mother of Jesus) and other saints, on what a priest can do, and on how exactly God should be worshipped, among other things.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Iglesia católica para niños

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