14 million new Catholics recorded
Most recent global number still fell by 0.05 percent as priests, seminarians dwindle
Despite reports of a shortage of priests and dwindling congregations, the number of new Catholics grew by an estimated 14 million from 2015 to 2016.
The news was released just ahead of World Mission Day on Oct. 21 and is based on the “Church’s Book of Statistics,” according to a report by Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news agency.
As of 2016 about 1.3 billion of the world’s 7.35 billion people identified as Catholics.
But even though there were millions of new Catholics, the global population of Catholics fell by 0.05 percent due to the number of deaths and conversions to other faiths, the statistics showed.
Europe showed the slowest rate of growth among all continents for the third straight year while Africa recorded the biggest increase with 6 million new Catholics in 2016.
Meanwhile all continents saw pastors spread out more thinly as fewer people flock to the vocation, with the average ratio standing at 3,130 faithful per priest, marking a rise of 39.
Europe reportedly lost about 2,500 priests that year including 1,000 from religious communities. The number of diocesan priests dropped for the fourth year to 53,000 and nearly 11,000 women left religious communities.
The survey also showed the number of bishops had risen by 49 to 5,353 and there were 1,057 new permanent deacons named.
The only uptrend in secular workers and catechists occurred in Africa, the survey reported.
The number of missionaries worldwide grew by 3,000 but Asia proved a weak spot, losing nearly 1,600 lay missionaries and 13,000 catechists.
Finally, diocesan seminarians edged up by 1,000 in 2016 but the number of religious seminarians fell in all regions – with Africa, again, proving the only exception to the rule.