The number of Catholics is increasing everywhere in the world, except in Europe

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The number of Catholic faithful is increasing on all continents, except in Europe, indicates a report by Fides agency published on October 20, 2023. The percentage of Catholics in relation to the world population has nevertheless decreased slightly.

On the occasion of the 97th World Mission Day, celebrated this Sunday, October 22, 2023, Fides agency published its traditional report on the number of Catholics around the world. Figures based on the latest Church directory updated December 31, 2021.

If the number of Catholic faithful in the world increased between 2020 and 2021, the percentage of Catholics compared to the world population decreased slightly. In other words, the population is changing faster than the number of baptized people. As of December 31, 2021, the number of Catholics was 1,375,852,000, an increase of 1.17% compared to the year 2020. An increase to be observed nevertheless in view of the increase in the world population. In one year, the world population increased by 1.54% while the number of Catholic faithful increased by 1.17%. In 2020, Catholics represented 17.73% of the world’s population. As of December 31, 2021, they are 17.67%, a difference of -0.06.

Between 2020 and 2021, the overall increase in the world population affected all continents, with the exception of Europe. At the same time, the number of Catholics increased on all continents, except in Europe (-244,000). As in the past, the increase in Catholics is more marked in Africa (+8,312,000) and America (+6,629,000), followed by Asia (+1,488,000) and Oceania (+55,000 ).

2,300 fewer priests and 540 more deacons

The universal Church lost 23 bishops compared to the previous year and now has 5,340 bishops – diocesan and religious – in the world. A decline also observed among priests. The Catholic Church today has 407,872 priests. This is 2,347 fewer than in 2020. If Fides agency has recorded an increase in the number of priests in Africa (+1,518), Asia (+719) and Oceania (+11), this does not compensate for the losses recorded in Europe (-3,632) and America (-963). Consequently, the number of inhabitants per priest has generally increased again this year.

On the other hand, the number of permanent deacons around the world continues to increase. In 2021, 541 permanent deacons were ordained, for a total of 49,176 deacons worldwide. This time, it is Europe which provides the most permanent deacons with 268 deacons. On other continents, there are 59 additional deacons in Africa, 147 in America, 58 in Asia and 9 in Oceania.

Drop in the number of religious and seminarians

The long-standing trend of an overall decrease in the number of religious people is confirmed, both among men and women. The number of religious (non-priests) decreased by 795 to reach 49,774. Fides agency counted 10,588 fewer nuns compared to the previous annual survey, bringing the number of nuns in the world to 608,958.

The report further notes a general decrease in the number of seminarians, whether diocesan or religious. With a total of 109,895 seminarians worldwide, the Church lost 1,960 future priests compared to 2020. Only Africa recorded more seminarians than the previous year. The number of “small seminarians”, largely driven by Africa, increased by 316 to reach 95,714.

A vast educational and social network

In the field of education and instruction, the Church remains present. It welcomes no less than 7 million students in Catholic nursery schools, 34 million primary school students, 2 million high school students and nearly 4 million higher education students.

Faithful to its pastoral health and charitable work, the Church has 5,400 hospitals and 14,000 dispensaries throughout the world, mainly in Africa and America, but also 9,700 orphanages, the majority of which are in Asia. It also manages more than 10,000 marriage counseling centers, mainly in Europe and America.

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