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World Catholic population growing; mixed results on priestly, religious vocations

Catholic World News - February 21, 2011

The world’s Catholic population grew by 1.3% in 2009, reaching 1.181 billion, according to the latest Church statistics, published in the new Annuario Pontificio.

The Annuario is the pontifical yearbook, containing the latest available figures for the universal Church. This year’s edition of the Annuario-- which was formally presented to Pope Benedict XVI on February 19—includes statistics up to the end of 2009, the most recent year for which full figures are available.

Those figures show that nearly half of the world’s Catholics—49.4%-- live in the Americas. (The Vatican considers North and South America as a single continent for statistical purposes.) Europe, with a roughly similar overall population, accounts for only 24% of the world’s Catholics. And Asia, by far the most populous continent, with 60% of the world’s total population, is home to only 10.7% of the Catholics.

The number of Catholic priests serving worldwide has grown slightly, reaching 410,593 in 2009. But that growth is uneven, with a disproportionate number of new priests coming from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In Europe the number of priests has fallen, while in North America it has held steady. The figures on young men training for the priesthood suggested that this trend will continue; the number of seminarians rose in Africa and Asia, fell in Europe, and held steady in the Americas primarily because of the higher figures from Latin America.

The year 2009 saw a noticeable drop in the number of female religious, from 739,067 to 729,371, despite a net increase in Africa and Asia. Again the figures show a shrinkage in Europe and North America.

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