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World’s Catholic population approaches 1.3 billion as African, Asian numbers soar

March 07, 2016

Between 2005 and 2014, the world’s Catholic population rose from 1.115 billion (17.3% of the world’s population) to 1.272 billion (17.8%), according to statistics made public by the Holy See Press Office on March 5.

During that time period, the Catholic population soared by 41% in Africa and 20% in Asia, approximately double the rate of population growth on each continent (23.8% in Africa, 9.6% in Asia). During the same time period, the Catholic population increased by 11.7% in North and South America, 2% in Europe, and 15.9% in Oceania.

In 2014, nearly half (48%) of the world’s Catholics lived in North and South America. 22.6% lived in Europe, 17% in Africa, 10.9% in Asia, and 0.8% in Oceania.

Between 2005 and 2014, the number of priests increased from 406,411 to 415,792, while the number of permanent deacons rose from 33,000 to 44,566. The number of priests rose significantly in Africa (by 32.6%) and Asia (by 27.1%), which declining in Europe (by 8%). 97.5% of permanent deacons live in North America, South America, or Europe.

Despite substantial gains in Africa and Asia, the number of religious brothers worldwide decreased from 54,708 in 2005 to 54,559 in 2014, while the number of religious sisters fell by 10.8% to 682,729.

The worldwide surge in the number of seminarians that began in the papacy of St. John Paul II has crested, as numbers rose from 63,882 (1978) to 114,439 (2005) to 120,616 (2011), and then fell to 116,939 (2014). Between 2005 and 2014, the number of seminarians soared in Africa (by 30.9%) and in Asia (by 29.4%) but plummeted in Europe (by 21.7%) and declined in North and South America (by 1.9%).

The statistics come from the 2016 edition of the Annuario Pontificio and the 2014 edition of the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, both of which will soon be released.

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