VATICAN CITY (RNS) The number of Catholics worldwide is rising fastest in Africa while the church continues to suffer from a shortage of priests in some parts of the world.
According to the Vatican’s latest statistics, released Thursday (April 6), the number of Catholics globally rose 1 percent, to 1.3 billion, in 2015.
In Africa, the number of baptized Catholics rose 19 percent – to 222 million, from 186 million in 2014.
The Vatican noted that America — North, Central and South — had the greatest concentration of Catholics, while numbers in Europe remained relatively stable.
Despite an increase in the number of Catholics, there was a fall in the number of priests called to ministry in some parts of the world. The number of priests rose by more than 1,100 in Africa and 1,100 in Asia but fell by 2,502 (6 percent) in Europe between 2014 and 2015. There were a total of 47 new priests in the Americas in 2015.
“After reaching its highest in 2011, the number of seminarians has been undergoing a gradual contraction,” the Vatican said. “The only exception is Africa, which does not seem affected by the vocation crisis for the moment and will remain the region with the greatest potential.”
Worldwide, there were 466,215 ordained Catholics, including 5,304 bishops, 415,656 priests and 45,255 deacons.
While noting the statistics presented a “mixed picture,” the Vatican reiterated “the positive trend” of Catholic growth, especially in the African continent, where the relative number of Catholics continues to increase over time.
Brazil had the highest number of Catholics – 172 million – accounting for 1 in 4 Catholics in the Americas, while Mexico had 110 million and the U.S. recorded 72 million Catholics. Colombia had 45 million, Argentina 41 million.
The numbers were compiled by the Vatican’s office for church statistics and published in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church and the Annuario Pontificio or Vatican Yearbook.
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)