Asia, Americas, Africa continue to be growth centers for Catholicism

October 30, 2023 - 10:25 AM
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Asia’s Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo (from left), Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, and Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay at a Synod Mass in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday, Oct. 23. (Roy Legarde/CBCP News)

VATICAN — The Catholic population continued to grow in Asia, the Americas, and Africa while Europe saw another annual decline in the baptized headcount as well as in the number of clergy, latest statistics showed.

Growth in the three regions pushed the global Catholic population up to 1.376 billion, an increase of 16.24 million, as of 2021. Catholics made up 17.67% of the world’s population, a tiny decrease from the previous year.

The figures were released on Oct. 22, World Mission Sunday, by Agenzia Fides, a news agency under the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization where Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is pro-prefect.

African Catholics increased by 8.3 million while the Americas saw a growth of 6.6 million. Asia grew by 1.49 million while Oceania’s Catholic headcount went up by 55,000. Europe had 244,000 fewer Catholics in 2021.

At the sidelines of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, Germany’s delegate to the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, told journalists the center of the Church was moving away from Europe and toward Asia and Africa, where there’s vibrant growth.

Priests, women religious

The total number of priests declined by 2,347 globally, as a result of the reduction in Europe (-3,632) and the Americas (-963).

Africa saw the ordinations of 1,518 priests in 2021 while Asia added 719 priests. Oceania recorded an additional 11 priests.

Diocesan priests went down by 911 globally to a total of 279,610. Priests in religious orders, meanwhile decreased by 1,436 to 128,262.

Major seminarians decreased by 1,960 globally to 109,895, with only Africa recording an increase in male vocations.

The number of women religious continued to drop, by 10,588 in 2021 to a total of 608,958, with increases recorded only in Africa (2,275) and in Asia (366).

Europe saw a steep decline in women religious, by 7,804, followed by the Americas (-5,185).

World’s biggest charity

Agenzia Fides said the Catholic Church in 2021 ran 74,368 kindergartens with 7.6 million pupils; 100,939 primary schools with 34.7 million pupils; and 49,868 secondary schools with 19.5 million pupils. There are 2.5 million students in Catholic high schools and 3.9 million Church-run universities.

The news agency also gave figures on the health, charity, and assistance institutions managed by the Catholic Church worldwide: 5,405 hospitals; 14,205 dispensaries; 567 leper hospitals; 15,276 homes for the elderly, chronically ill and handicapped; 9,703 orphanages; 10,567 nursery schools; 10,604 marriage counseling centers; 3,287 social rehabilitation centres; and 35,529 other institutes.