VATICAN CITY, JUN 4 (ZENIT).- The Holy See has just published its
Statistic Yearbook for 1997, providing facts and figures on the Church
throughout the world. The numbers give a good insight into the health of
the Church as an institution in the world.
On a first reading, the statistical tables appear as dry as all
sociological studies with scientific characteristics. But on closer
reading, the pages offer some astounding revelations.
The number of baptized Catholics has grown progressively throughout the
world, going from 757 million to more than a billion (exactly
1,005,254), over the last twenty years. But the demographic growth of
the planet has maintained a higher rate, so that the percentage of
Catholics in the world, which in 1978 was 17.99%, is presently 17.27%.
Of these, almost half (49.32%) are in the Americas; 28.18% in Europe;
11.23% in Africa; 10.47% in Asia; and 0.80% in Oceania.
The priesthood, however, is experiencing an opposite tendency. The
number of ordained ministers in this period has moved from 420,000 to
404,000 -- a decrease of 3.98%. This phenomenon reflects the crisis of
vocations of the two previous decades, felt especially in Europe, which
is counterbalanced in Africa and Asia, where priests have increased by
49.35% and 46.00% respectively.
The most acute crisis the Church is experiencing at this time has to do
with religious. Two decades ago, women religious numbered almost one
million, 991,000 to be precise. At present, their number has decreased
to 819,000 -- a 17% decrease. Men religious (excluding priests), have
decreased from 76,000 in 1978 to 58,000 in 1997. The number of priest
religious, which twenty years ago was 158,000, has decreased to 140,000.
The crisis is most acute in Oceania and Europe. Once again, Asia and
Africa represent the hope of the future, as these have experienced
constant growth in consecrations to the religious life.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the statistics are the vocations to the
priesthood. In 1978 there were 63,882 seminarians; at present there are
108,517, an increase of 69.87%. The increase in Africa and Asia, in
fact, is incredible. Over the last twenty years, these two continents
have seen an increase of 238.50% and 124.01% respectively. In all the
continents there has been a decisive increase in vocations, with the
exception of Oceania, where the figures went from 784 to 797
seminarians. Even Europe has seen an increase of 16.47% (from 23,915 to
27,853), resulting from the rebirth of Christianity in the East and the
end of the vocational crisis. America has become the great seedbed of
the Catholic Church's vocations. At present, it has 35,000 seminarians;
twenty years ago it had 22,011.
The general picture confirmed by the Holy See's Statistical Yearbook is
a tendency which has been noted for some time: Africa is the continent
where the Church is experiencing the greatest growth in the world,
followed by Asia. The continent with the least growth is Europe,
suffering from disillusionment and secularization. Nevertheless, the
number of those baptized in Europe increased by 6.36%, higher than the
rate of population growth. On the threshold of the third millennium,
half the Catholics of the world are in the New World and this, of
itself, is a phenomenon whose consequences it is too early to predict.