The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church,is the world's largest Christian church and claims over a billion members, representing approximately half of all Christians and one-sixth of the world's population. The Catholic Church is a communion of the Western, or (Latin Rite) Church, and 22 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches (called particular churches), comprising a total of 2,795 dioceses in 2008. The Church's highest earthly authority in matters of faith, morality, and governance is the Pope,currently Pope Benedict XVI, who holds supreme authority in concert with the College of Bishops, of which he is the head. The Catholic community is made up of an ordained ministry and the laity; members of either group may belong to organized religious communities.

The Church defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity. It operates social programs and institutions throughout the world, including schools, universities, hospitals, missions and shelters, as well as organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Charities that help the poor, families, the elderly and the sick.

Through apostolic succession, the Catholic Church believes itself to be the continuation of the original Christian community founded by Jesus in his selection of Saint Peter, a view shared by many historians.The Catholic Church considers its bishops to be validly ordained according to the doctrine of apostolic succession, making them valid and true successors to the twelve Apostles. It is believed, therefore, that the bishops, priests and deacons receive spiritual and sacramental authority, via the twelve Apostles, from Christ. In addition, the Church lays claim to the Primacy of Simon Peter and the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the Pope's title as the Bishop of Rome. Other churches such as the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Anglican Communion recognize the valid consecration of the Catholic Church's bishops as well as the primacy of the Bishop of Rome although they interpret that primacy differently.

The Church has defined its doctrines through various ecumenical councils, following the example set by the first Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem. On the basis of promises made by Jesus to his apostles, described in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is guided by the Holy Spirit and thereby protected from falling into doctrinal error.

Catholic beliefs are based on the deposit of Faith (containing both the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition) handed down from the time of the Apostles, which are interpreted by the Church's teaching authority. Those beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed and formally detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Formal Catholic worship, termed the liturgy, is regulated by Church authority. The Eucharist, one of seven Church Sacraments, which is also called the Mass in the West, and in the East the Divine Liturgy, is the center of Catholic worship.

With a history spanning almost two thousand years, the Church is one of the world's oldest institutions and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization since at least the 4th century. In the 11th century, a major split, sometimes called the Great Schism, occurred between Eastern and Western Christianity, largely as a result of disagreements over papal primacy. Those Eastern churches which remained in, or later re-established, communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, form the Eastern Catholic churches and those which remain independent of papal authority are usually known as Eastern Orthodox churches. In the 16th century, partly in response to the rise of the Protestant Reformation in western Europe, the Church engaged in its own substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation.

Although the Church maintains that it is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" founded by Jesus Christ and in which is found the fullness of the means of salvation, it also acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of other Christian communities to bring people to salvation.It believes that it is called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians, a movement known as ecumenism. Modern challenges facing the Church include the rise of secularism and opposition to its stances on abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and sexual morality.

Official Holy See Website
Official Vatican channel on YouTube