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Backgrounder

prepared by
Department of Communications
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth Street NE ∙ Washington, DC 20017
202-541-3200 ∙ 202-541-3173 fax ∙ www.usccb.org/comm

Asian and Pacific Islander Catholics in the United States


“There are many Asian and Pacific communities and identities. Respect for the differences among varied cultures and historical traditions are a significant part of accepting them into U.S. society and the Church in the US.” (Asian Pacific Presence)

The challenge of the ministry to Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the United States is the challenge of diversity - of ethnicity, language, culture, religious tradition, place of birth, and recentness of arrival to the U.S. in the case of immigrant communities. There are 53 Asian and 26 Pacific countries; most have citizens now living in the United States or natives who have become American citizens.

By the numbers:

  • As of 2005, 13.5 million (5 percent of the total U.S. population) people are Asian and 959,603 Pacific Islanders, including Hawaiians (0.3 percent of total U.S. population.) 1
  • Largest Asian U.S. populations are Chinese (including mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), Filipino, Indian and Vietnamese, followed by Korean, Japanese.
  • The largest Pacific Islander populations in the U.S. are Guamanian, Samoan and Tongan. 2
  • Except for the Filipinos, the majority of Asian and Pacific people in the U.S. are followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.
  • The U.S. Asian Pacific populations with the largest number of Catholics are the Filipinos, followed by the Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and Korean.
  • The 10 dioceses with the highest number of Asians, according to the 2000 Census, are Los Angeles (1,317,890), Honolulu (985,899), Brooklyn (650,868), San Jose (474,218), Oakland (473,687), San Francisco (445,347), Orange (440,577), Seattle (407,738), New York (327,491), and Chicago (323,865)
  • The number of Asian and Pacific Catholics in the U.S. is difficult to count. There is no hard data available. In 1999, USCCB estimates said that Asian Pacific Catholics made up the third largest group of people of color, accounting for about 2.6 percent of all Catholics in the United States. 3
  • Immigration estimates and data collected in the last five years from Asian and Pacific Catholic communities from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Korea and other countries indicate that number might be closer to 4-5% of the total Catholic population presently.
  • Asian Catholics also include members of Eastern Catholic Churches of the Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, and Midle-Eastern Catholic rites.
  • Only three dioceses (Chicago, San Bernardino and Seattle) have formally designated diocesan offices for Asian Catholics. Many other dioceses have organized ministry with Asian and Pacific communities integrated in the multicultural or multiethnic diocesan offices, or serve them through the establishment of ethnic parishes and missions.
  • To date, five bishops of Asian and Pacific origins have been consecrated and remain active in the U.S.
Asian and Pacific Ministry - Relevant Happenings in Recent Years

  • In 2001 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops promulgated the historic pastoral statement, Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith. It was the first time the bishops in the U.S., as a body, wrote about Asian and Pacific presence in the Church.

  • In the last ten years, Filipinos, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Guamanians, and Koreans have constructed shrines and mosaics at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. These shrines are symbols and affirmation of the Asian and Pacific Islander immigrant Catholics’ contributions to American Catholicism and the U.S. Catholic Church.

  • One area in which Asian and Pacific Catholics have contributed greatly to the U.S. Catholic Church is in the number of priestly and religious vocations. For example, according to a statistical overview of priestly formation for 2007 conducted by C.A.R.A., for Asian/Pacific Islander seminarians are disproportionately represented relative to their proportion of the U.S. Catholic population. Asian and Pacific Islanders make up less than 2 percent of U.S. Catholics overall but are 7 percent of college level seminarians. 4

  • Asian and Pacific Institutes for Mission and Ministry (leadership trainings) have been offered annually since 2003 by PCMR in collaboration with dioceses and Catholic institutions in different parts of the country and have benefited several hundred pastoral leaders who minister with these populations.

  • The first National Asian and Pacific Catholic Convocation was held June 29-July 3, 2006 in Crystal City, VA and attracted more than 1,200 participants.

  • Since the 1980s the pastoral care of Asian and Pacific communities has been coordinated nationally through the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR) of the Migration and Refugee Services Department at USCCB. With the restructuring of USCCB, a permanent bishops’ Sub-Committee on Asian and Pacific Affairs will be formed in 2008 under the umbrella of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; an assistant director for Asian and Pacific Affairs will be part of the staff of the Secretariat on Cultural Diversity in the Church.


  1. Source: U.S. Census Bureau
  2. Source: Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith, USCCB, 2001
  3. Bishop Fiorenza, America Magazine, 1999.
  4. Source: Catholic Ministry Formation Enrollments: Statistical Overview for 2006-2007 (C.A.R.A.), page 16.