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Asian Church shows growth, progress: Vatican report

Catholics in Asia were 153.3 million in 2021 with an annual increase of 1.49 million
Catholics pose in front of a cardboard stand-up photograph of Pope Francis in suburban Manila ahead of his visit to the country in 2014.

Catholics pose in front of a cardboard stand-up photograph of Pope Francis in suburban Manila ahead of his visit to the country in 2014. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Published: November 08, 2023 11:12 AM GMT
Updated: November 09, 2023 04:12 AM GMT

Catholic Church has recorded steady growth in Africa, Asia, and the Americas with an increase in the number of baptized Catholics and clergy while Europe continues to experience a decline, according to the Vatican’s annual statistics.

The Catholic population increased by 8.3 million in Africa. In America they increased to 6.6 million and in Asia, they grew to 1.49 million and about 55,000 in Oceania in 2021, according to Church’s Yearly Book of Statistics published by the Vatican.

In that year, the Catholic population in Europe dropped by 244,000.

Catholics in Asia were 153.3 million with an annual increase of 1.49 million. Asian Catholics accounted for 11 percent of the global Catholic population.

The yearbook was released on Oct. 22, on World Mission Sunday, Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

The release coincided with the first phase of the Synod on Synodality in Rome led by Pope Francis on Oct. 4-29.

The Asian Church is growing, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, Germany’s delegate to the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, said on the sidelines of the Vatican meeting,

The center of the Church is “moving away from Europe and toward Asia and Africa, where there’s vibrant growth,” Overbeck said.

The global population was 7.785 billion as of Dec. 31, 2021, and Catholics accounted for 1.3 billion with an increase of 16.2 million compared to the previous year. Catholics made up 17.6 percent of the world’s population.

Clergy and religious increase 

The number of priests worldwide increased to 407,872 up by 2,347.

Africa led the growth in total priest numbers at 51,983 (up by 3 percent) followed by Asia with 71,751 priests (up by 1 percent).

In 2021, the number of diocesan priests in Asia increased to 40,791 (up by 1.4 percent) and the number of religious priests increased to 30,960 (up by 0.5 percent) compared to 2020.

However, Europe and America showed a decline with the number of priests recorded at 160,322 (down by 2.2 percent) and 119,309 (down by 0.8 percent) respectively.

Meanwhile, Oceania showed a minor increase in priests at 4,507 (up by 0.2 percent) for the same period.

Vocations, bishops decline 

The number of bishops showed a decline, except in Africa. The number of bishops in the world in 2021 was 5,340, which was less than 23 in 2020.

Africa added seven in 2021, taking its total number to 725, while Asia had 804 bishops, down by four compared to the previous year.

Asia's men religious added 25 members to its number of 12,629, and women religious added 366 members to its number of 175,494.

Except for Asia and Africa, all other regions showed a decline in the number of religious personnel.

Asia saw a decline in the number of seminarians compared to Africa, which is the only continent to show an increase.

Major seminarians in Asia including diocesan and religious stood at 48,742 down by 822 compared to the previous period.

Serving millions

Fides reported details of the educational and charitable initiatives taken up by the Catholic church in Asia.

The Asian Catholic church runs around 1.3 million kindergarten, primary, secondary, and high schools which makes up around 50 percent of similar institutions run by the Catholic church worldwide.

The church caters to around 13.9 million students including those in college, Fides reported.

The Asian Catholic church runs an estimated 12,208 hospitals, dispensaries, leprosy centers, homes for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled, orphanages, nursery schools, marriage counseling centers, Catholic schools, and other institutes.

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