The Catholic Church in Canada is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and the Canadian Bishops Conference. As of 2008[update], it has the largest number of adherents to a religion in Canada, with 46% of Canadians (13.07 million) baptized as Catholics. There are 72 dioceses and about 8,000 priests in Canada. According to the 2001 census, Quebec was home to 6.022 million Catholics, or nearly half of the total.
Catholicism arrived in Canada in 1497, when John Cabot landed on Newfoundland and raised the Venetian and Papal banners and claimed the land for his sponsor King Henry VII of England, while recognizing the religious authority of the Roman Catholic Church. A letter of John Day states that Cabot landed on 24 June 1497 and "went ashore with a crucifix and raised banners bearing the arms of the Holy Father". In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the first Catholic colony in Quebec City. Later, in 1611, he established a fur trading post on the Island of Montreal, which later became a Catholic colony for trade and missionary activity.
In 1620, George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore purchased a tract of land in Newfoundland from Sir William Vaughan and established a colony, calling it Avalon, after the legendary spot where Christianity was introduced to Britain. In 1627 Calvert brought two Roman Catholic priests to Avalon. This was the first continuous Roman Catholic ministry in British North America. Despite the severe religious conflicts of the period, Calvert secured the right of Catholics to practice their religion unimpeded in Newfoundland, and embraced the novel principle of religious tolerance, which he wrote into the Charter of Avalon and the later Charter of Maryland. The Colony of Avalon was thus the first North American jurisdiction to practice religious tolerance.