The Deacon's Bench

The Church is continuing to expand — and not necessarily in Europe or the United States.

Some highlights of a new report:

The world’s Catholic population is growing fastest in Africa and Asia, according to an annual compilation of statistics provided by the Fides news agency.

The world’s Catholic population grew 16.6 million in the most recent year, Fides reports. The figures show a rise of 4.65 million in the number of Catholics in Africa, 3.08 million in Asia, and 6.83 million in the Americas– which are treated as a single continent by Vatican statisticians.

Fides, an arm of the Congregation for Evangelization, offers a summary of figures each year, providing a picture of Church activity particularly in mission fields, for World Mission Sunday. The latest report reflects statistics compiled at the end of the 2005 calendar year: the most recent statistics available on a worldwide basis.

The number of priests worldwide increased only slight: by 520, to reach a total of 406,411. But that growth was uneven; Africa and Asia saw a substantial increase in the number of priests (nearly 3,000 combined), while Europe lost 1,699 priests and the Americas lost 639. As a result, the number of Catholics per priest rose substantially in Europe, Oceania, and the Americas, while dropping in Africa and Asia.

Similarly, the number of seminarians preparing for the priesthood rose in Africa and Asia, by a combined total of over 1,500, but dropped significantly in Europe (443) and slightly (7) in Oceania. In the Americas the seminary population rose by 210, mostly in Latin American countries.

Photo: African women presenting gifts during mass at the Vatican

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