VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church’s missionary works worldwide include 42,000 schools and rely on some 85,000 priests.
These were among the statistics presented today by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He was presenting John Paul II’s Message for World Mission Sunday 2003 in the Vatican Press Office.
At the beginning of 2003, the ecclesiastical circumscriptions (archdioceses, dioceses, apostolic vicariates, etc.) under the Vatican dicastery numbered 1,075 — almost 39% of all the circumscriptions worldwide.
At the service of the mission lands (the so-called “ad gentes” mission) are some 85,000 priests, including 53,000 diocesan clergy. Of the total number of priests, 27,000 work in Africa, 44,000 in Asia, 6,000 in America, 5,000 in Oceania, and 3,000 in Europe.
Also working in this missionary activity are 28,000 men religious who are not priests; 450,000 women religious; and 1.65 million catechists.
In the mission lands there are 42,000 Catholic schools, 1,600 hospitals, 6,000 clinics, 780 leprosariums and 12,000 initiatives of a charitable and social nature.
During the press conference, Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, mentioned the enormous growth in the Church in Africa thanks to missionary work. In 1900 there were about 2 million baptized Catholics in the continent; now there are 110 million, or 15% of the population.
“This progress is manifested especially in the realm of priestly and religious vocations,” he explained.
In Oceania, out of a total of 26 million inhabitants, 7 million, or 26%, are Catholic, he said.
Monsignor Patabendige Don Albert Malcolm Ranjith, assistant secretary of the congregation, addressed the situation in Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s population lives, 3% of whom are Christian. In Asia, the Church has a majority position only in the Philippines and East Timor.
The situation in America was illustrated by Father Massimo Cenci, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.
He mentioned the missionary “maturity” of the continent, particularly Latin America, which is sending its first missionaries (“Fidei Donum” priests or laymen) to other continents.
He also cited the advent of several diocesan missionary seminaries, and the organization of the American Missionary Congresses. The next congress will be held in Guatemala in November.