The Roman Catholic church denomination is the largest Christian group in the world today with more than a billion followers constituting about half of the world's Christian population. It is the majority religion of Italy, Spain, and nearly all Latin American countries. In America it is the largest individual Christian denomination, encompassing about 25 percent of the population.
The New Testament disciples of Jesus Christ provided the beginning origins of the Roman Catholic church. As early as 380 AD, the Roman Empire declared the Catholic church to be the official religion of the Empire. For the first thousand years of Christianity no other established denominations existed, only "the one, holy, Catholic Church."
As the apostles of Jesus Christ spread the gospel, they provided the beginning structure for the early Christian Church. It is impossible to separate the initial stages of the Roman Catholic church from that of the early Christian church.
After Jesus died, Peter "The Rock", one of Jesus' disciples, became the recognized leader in the Christian movement.
At this time Saul, originally one of the strongest persecutors of the early Jewish Christians, had a vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and became a Christian. Adopting the name Paul, he became one of the greatest evangelist of the early Christian church. Paul's ministry, was directed mainly to Gentiles rather than Jews.
The Roman Empire legally recognized Christianity as a valid religion in 313 AD. Later in that century, in 380 AD, Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire. During the following 1,000 years, Catholics were the only people recognized as Christians.
In 1054 AD, a formal split occurred between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Catholic churches. This division remains in effect today. The next major division occurred in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation.
The Roman Catholic church structure is hierarchical, headed by the Pope in Rome (Vatican City). Its government is run by the Cardinals living in Rome, and is concerned with matters of wide significance. The Church is organized and divided by diocese, with Bishop and Archbishops, overseeing these territories. The Pope names the Bishops. Dioceses are made up of parishes, each of which has a church and a priest.