ROME — New statistics released by the Vatican on Thursday show that Africa continues to position itself as the future axis of Catholicism, with the number of baptized Catholics on the continent growing at a significantly faster rate than anywhere else in the world.
According to the numbers released on Thursday by the Vatican’s press office, Catholicism has grown globally from 1.272 billion in 2014 to 1.285 in 2015. This represents a 1 percent annual growth, and 17.7 percent of the world’s population.
The data, compiled by the Vatican’s Central Office for Church Statistics, were published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church and the Annuario Pontificio 2017, the Vatican’s yearbook.
Growth varies radically from one continent to another. While in Africa the Catholic population grew by 19.4 percent, it’s remained stable in Europe. If anything, it’s decreasing on the so-called “Old Continent,” where the birth rate is low and population is projected to decrease in upcoming years, with more people dying than being born in several countries.
The statistics revealed by the Vatican on Thursday also show that despite some numerical changes, the American continent – North, Central and South- continues to have the largest number of baptized Catholics, being the home of some 49 percent.
The top ten countries with the most baptized Catholics remained unchanged in recent years. Five are in what the Vatican calls “America,” three in Europe, one in Africa and another in Asia. Combined, they represent a staggering 55.9 percent of the total Catholic population.
Brazil’s 172.2 million faithful lead the pack, followed by Mexico (110.9), the Philippines (83.6), the United States (72.3), Italy (58) France (48.3), Colombia (45.3), Spain (43.3) and Democratic Republic of Congo (43.2).
Pope Francis’s Argentina caps the top ten, with a little over 40 million baptized Catholics.
Regarding hierarchy and consecrated life, the 2015 statistics reveal that the Catholic Church had 5,304 bishops (up 4 percent from five years before), 415,656 priests, 45,255 permanent deacons and 670,320 professed women religious.
Globally, there were 136 fewer priests in 2015 than the year before. However, expanding the date range from 2010 to 2015 and drilling deeper, it becomes evident that the variation is, once again, striking from one continent to another: While Europe lost 2,502 priests, Africa and Asia gained over 1,000 each.
The number of priestly vocations is also decreasing, going from 99.5 seminarians for every one million Catholics in 2010, to 90.9 two years ago. Once again, it changes from one continent to the other, with Africa having a surplus while there’s a decrease in Europe and in the Middle East.
Drastically different is the growth of permanent deacons, which saw a 14 percent increase in five years. However, 98 percent of them are in Europe and America.