- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

A population and immigration boom has flooded Northern Virginia with residents who are filled with the Holy Spirit, officials with the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said.

The diocese — which encompasses 21 counties and seven cities in Northern Virginia — has experienced a 42 percent increase in registered Catholics over the past decade. The increase has prompted the creation of a new parish and two new missions that would serve more than 2,500 Catholics in Prince William, Loudoun and Rappahannock counties.

There are more than 84,000 Catholics living in the three counties, and nearly one-third of Catholics in the diocese are Hispanic, said Soren Johnson, a spokesman for the Arlington diocese.

“A number of people are moving into the diocese because of work … and because a certain number of them are Roman Catholic, we are growing exponentially,” said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. “It’s a very hope-filled time for the Church.”

Officials said an influx of Hispanics and other immigrants also has increased the need for expansion in the diocese, which offers Mass in Spanish in more than 30 of its 67 parishes.

U.S. census figures show the population of Hispanics, who are predominately Catholic, more than doubled in Northern Virginia from 97,559 in 1990 to 198,535 in 2000.

“Our diocese has been immeasurably enriched by a vibrant and growing Hispanic presence,” Bishop Loverde said.

About 400,000 registered Catholics live in the diocese, which officials said is among the top five fastest-growing and the 50th largest in the country.

More than 12,000 Catholics join the diocese each year, officials said.

The membership growth of the diocese has directly correlated with the population growth in Northern Virginia.

Loudoun County, with a population of 229,429 last year, is the fastest-growing county in the nation, census figures show. The population in Prince William has grown by 19.9 percent from 2000 to last year.

“A lot of people that are moving into Northern Virginia do have religious backgrounds because they come from the Northeast — New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut. There are a lot of Catholics in that part of the country,” said the Rev. Sean K. Rousseau, administrator of Corpus Christi Mission. “There’s definitely a migration and hopefully we’ll be able to respond to it.”

Corpus Christi is one of the new missions that will be located in South Riding, Va. Currently, Masses are held at Hutchinson Farm Elementary School and are attended by more than 1,000 Catholics.

The other is St. Katharine Drexel Mission, which will be located near Bull Run. Demographic trajectories indicate that more than 2,000 Catholic families could live within that mission’s boundaries by 2010.

St. Peter’s Parish in Washington, Va., is the new parish and will be home to about 400 parishioners in Rappahannock.

Officials with the Archdiocese of Washington said they have seen an increase in registered Catholics as well, though not at the rate of the Arlington Diocese. The archdiocese includes the District and Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties.

“Historically, Virginia was not settled with a strong Catholic presence,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. “They’ve grown as the residential housing boom has grown.”

In 1990, there were about 400,000 Catholics in the archdiocese and now there are about 560,000, Miss Gibbs said. Officials opened five parishes, two missions and two schools in the 1990s.

The Roman Catholic Church is one of several religious denominations that have seen a growth in their membership since 1990.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons, increased its membership by 12.9 percent in Northern Virginia between 1990 and 2000, according to statistics posted at the American Religion Data Archive (ARDA) Web site, www.thearda.com.

The Mormons increased their numbers from 15,159 in 1990 to 17,119 in 2000. That increase did not keep pace with the overall population growth in the area. Over the same decade, census figures show that the Northern Virginia population rose from 1.4 million to 1.7 million, a 23.9 percent increase.

The ARDA data did not include historically black denominations and did not have information on the Muslim population in Northern Virginia.

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