Italy No Stranger to Muslims and Jehovah´s Witnesses

New "Encyclopedia of Religions" Surveys the Scene

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ROME, JUNE 15, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Islam is now the second largest religion in Italy, after Catholicism. But among native Italians, second place belongs to the Jehovah´s Witnesses.



These are among the findings of the "Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy," a work published by Elledici, which took the European Center of Studies on New Religions 12 years to produce.

The 1,056-page encyclopedia analyzes 600 "religious realities" present in Italy. It was directed by Massimo Introvigne, head of the research center and a leading expert on European religious movements.

"If we speak of Italian citizens with an Italian passport, the most numerous religion, after the Catholic, are Jehovah´s Witnesses, who number 270,000, if counted according to their parameters," Introvigne explained.

"But if counted according to the ordinary criteria of any other community, that is, including the elderly and children, with more or less assiduous participation, then they are about 400,000," he added.

Protestants number 360,000, followed by Buddhists, at 74,000, the researcher revealed.

The situation is different if immigrants are considered.

"According to our estimates, with the immigrants the Muslims [number] 580,000, and the Orthodox 140,000, because there is a large Romanian and Slav immigration," Introvigne said.

He added that "1.92% of Italian citizens belong to a religion other than Catholic, while this figure rises to 3.5% if one takes into account all the people present in the territory."

According to Introvigne, 89% of the people in Italy say they are religious, but those who are in contact with an organized religion are less than 40%.

Some 37% of the people are practicing Catholics, according to sociologists´ criteria, which means that they practice the faith at least once a month. About 2% actively practice other religions. In other words, half the Italians who say they are religious do not practice any religion regularly.

While the encyclopedia states that there is a "return to the religious," Introvigne explains it this way: "There is a definite increase in people who say they are religious. But, be careful, because the return of interest in the religious and sacred is not necessarily a return to the faith or the Church."

He added: "The news is that now, many more people are interested in religion -- many more than 10 or 20 years ago."