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What You Need to Know About the Vatican's US Real Estate Empire

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The Church has been acquiring land since its inception in 313 A.D., and as of 2011, the Pope was one of the world's top three largest landowners, behind King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Queen Elizabeth II. Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to calculate exactly how much real estate the Catholic Church has because it's protected as a religious institution. But that didn't stop us from doing some digging around. For starters, worldwide holdings total roughly 177 million acres, on top of The Holy See's 110 acres that make up Vatican City. 

Here in the US the Catholic Church spends an estimated $170B a year. To give you some context, General Electric has a revenue of $150B a year. As of December 2014, there were 17,483 Catholic churches in the US, a number that has dwindled from nearly 20,000 in 1990, and will continue to dwindle as the Church restructures. For instance, it was announced in November 2014 that New York City would merge 112 of its parishes into 55 new parishes, in what is described as the largest reorganization in the diocese's history. A number of Roman Catholic churches are recognized as national landmarks. Here's a look at a few:

Mission San Xavier del Bac

This Spanish Catholic mission just outside of downtown Tucson, AZ, was founded in 1692 and named for Christian missionary Francis Xavier. Thousands of people a year travel to the pilgrimage site, which is known as "the place where the water appears," because there used to be natural springs in the area.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

This Franciscan mission was founded in 1769 and is known as the site of the region's first public execution. The unfortunate man was Father Luis Jayme, and he's known as "California's first Christian martyr." His body still rests in a tomb next to the altar.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

This New York City landmark sits across the street from Rockefeller Center. The 135-year-old church is undergoing a five-year, $175M renovation to repair bricks crumbling from acid rain and pollution. But it's still a beauty.

The Alamo Mission in San Antonio

This church is known as The Alamo, and was originally named the Mission San Antonio de Valero. It was the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and was used to educate Native American Christian converts in the area.

According to the Catholic Health Association, there are 645 Catholic hospitals in the US, and 1,400 long-term care and health facilities across all 50 states. Catholic hospitals treat one in six US patients, and in 2012 they made up one quarter of the top 100 ranked hospitals.

Catholic schools make up 5% of the national total, with over 6,800 institutions. And there are at least 244 Catholic colleges and universities, with notable schools like Notre Dame and Georgetown topping the list of some of the best schools (and football teams, in some cases) in the nation. Pictured: University of Notre Dame's Dome and Basilica

There is also the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to the United States (or the Vatican Embassy), located in Washington, DC. And of course, the church is a charitable organization, so naturally it has a number of buildings to support that cause. Catholic Charities USA was ranked the nation's 13th-largest charity in 2014, with revenue of $4.3B. It has 160 locations in US states and territories. It's unclear if the church owns or rents the locations, but we figure since it owns everything else, why not these?

So by our count, the Catholic Church owns well over 26,000 properties across the United States and in US territories. And we've barely scratched the surface as there are a number of affordable developments, parking lots and other properties the Church owns. Pictured: Georgetown University