A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

1997 Statistical Yearbook of the Holy See - 1

CHURCH EXPERIENCING UNPRECEDENTED "BOOM" OF SEMINARIANS Crisis Among Men and Women Religious Continues

VATICAN CITY, 4 JUN 1999 (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.

Catholics Increase, but not in Percentage
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.

Consequences of the 70s Crisis
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.

Religious Life Decreasing
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.

Seminarians' "Boom"
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. ZE99060307

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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