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Pope to Greet One of the World's Least Religious Nations

The host country for the Catholic World Youth Day celebration later this month is one of the least religious nations in the western world, research showed Friday.

Most Australians (52 percent) never or very seldom attend a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple for religious purposes, according to a survey by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation.

Only a quarter of the population described themselves as deeply religious. Meanwhile, 44 percent say religion does not play a central role in their lives. And nearly a third (28 percent) said they are not religious at all.

Moreover, nearly half of Australians (48 percent) do not partake in personal prayer, and a third (31 percent) do not believe in God or a divine power or in life after death. For half of Australians, religion is less important than family, partners, work/career, leisure time and politics.

The survey is the most extensive study done on religion in major cultures of the world. The worldwide opinion poll questioned 21,000 adults in 21 countries, finding that only four countries showed lower interest in religion than Australia – Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The United States, in comparison, has a self-described religious population of 89 percent. Moreover, the majority of Americans (62 percent) consider themselves to be highly religious. Only 11 percent of Americans are not religious.

Australia's Catholic community is the country's largest faith group at 25 percent of the population. But the most religious are small-numbered free-churches and Pentecostal Protestants, including the Charismatic Movements.

"On the eve of World Youth Day it is interesting to note the strong religious vitality recorded amongst the nation's youth," Martin Rieger, leader of Bertelsmann Foundation's religious project, said in a statement.

"Christianity and Catholicism in Australia are not blossoming, but equally are not in danger of losing their core roots," he said.

Pope Benedict XVI will be in Sydney to celebrate Catholic World Youth Day events, which will take place July 15-20. Hundreds of thousands of youths from Australia and around the world are expected to participate in the celebrations, which will end with a papal mass that is expected to draw up to half a million people.

The visit will be Pope Benedict XVI's first to Australia.

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