VATICAN CITY, MAY 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- According to the statistics, the greatest challenge facing Benedict XVI at the beginning of his pontificate is the Catholic Church’s lack of growth in Europe.
Africa, however, is the great hope, where over the past 25 years Catholics have almost tripled in number, according to the new edition of the “Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2003,” prepared by the Church’s Central Office of Statistics.
The results of the volume were published last week in the Italian edition of the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Between 1978 and 2003, Catholics increased worldwide from 757 million to 1.085 billion — an increase of 329 million faithful.
If these figures are compared with the evolution of the world population over the same period, which increased from 4.2 billion to 6.3 billion, one sees that the percentage of Catholics in the world has decreased slightly, from almost 18% to just over 17%.”
In Europe there is an evident “stationery situation,” said the newspaper when analyzing the statistics.
In the year 2003, baptized faithful in the Old World numbered almost 280 million — an increase of some 13 million with respect to 1978, and just over 300,000 with respect to 1988.
“This stagnation is due almost exclusively to the well-known European demographic situation, where the population is not growing; what is more, a clear decrease is foreseen over the next decades,” says L’Osservatore Romano.
However, the percentage of Catholics in Europe has virtually remained unchanged over the past 25 years: decreasing from 40.5% to 39.6%.
The Catholic Church is growing most rapidly in Africa, where Catholics have virtually tripled. In 1978 they numbered about 55 million, while in 2003 they have increased to almost 144 million.
“Catholics, who in 1978 constituted 12.4% of the African population, 25 years later constitute almost 17%,” stated L’Osservatore Romano.
The Church has experienced vigorous growth in America and Asia, 47.6% and 78.2% respectively, but it must be taken into account that the increase is in line with those two continents’ demographic development, said the newspaper.
American Catholics represent 62% of the continent’s population, while in Asia their percentage, although slightly increased, did not exceed 3% in 2003.
The situation in Oceania is stationery, reveal the statistics.
L’Osservatore Romano concluded that over the past 25 years the percentage of African Catholics has increased with respect to Catholics worldwide (from 7% to 13%), and the percentage of European Catholics has decreased (from 35% to less than 26%).”
“In America, one can speak of a positive consolidation: almost half of the faithful worldwide belong to that continent,” added the newspaper.
According to the statistics of the volume “Religions in the World,” of the De Agostini Geographic Institute, valid for the year 2000, 36.6% of the world’s population are Christians, of whom 17.5% are Catholics, 5.6% Protestants, 3.6% Orthodox, 1.3% Anglicans, 6.8% belong to other Christian confessions and 1.8% do not belong to any Church.
According to this data, Muslims surpass Catholics, as in the year 2000 they constituted 19.6% of the world’s population.