04/29/2004, 00.00
VATICAN – World Missionary Day

Almost 90,000 missionaries for 5 billion non-Catholics

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Catholics form 17.20% of the world's population, that is, 1,070,000,000 Catholics out of the total 6.2 billion human beings living on Earth.

The Catholic global populace is divided as follows: 37 million in Africa (16.6%); 534 million in the Americas (62.3%); 280 million in Europe (39.9%); 110 million in Asia (2.9%); 8 million in Oceania (26.8 %).

These statistics, as illustrated by Cardinal  Crescenzio Sepe (prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) on the occasion of the papal Message for the 78th World Missionary Day (on Oct. 24) by themselves demonstrate the need for missionary activity, writes John Paul II. "We must commit ourselves with all our efforts to carry out such service," the pontiff says.

Currently there is a mixed bag of Catholic faithful carrying out missionary activities across the world: bishops, priests, nuns, catechists and lay men and women. There are more than 85,000 missionary priests (both diocesan and of religious orders) serving worldwide.

There are 450,000 sisters and 650,000 catechists also working in missionary capacities. "Despite their efforts, which can appear remarkable, and despite the fact that we continue to have an increase in religious and priestly vocations, they are still not enough to meet the up-and-coming needs of mission countries," Cardinal Sepe says.

"A good example is seen in Asia, where 60% of the world's population lives and where Catholics are just 2.9% of the population. One can understand why, then, the pope urges us to "courageously re-launch our mission 'Ad Gentes' in the first part of his Message ."  

There are 1081 Church districts (archdioceses, dioceses, vicariates, apostolic prefectures), entrusted to the leadership of prelates in accordance with Propaganda Fide. Added to this figure is the number of districts in the so-called "silent zones" (e.g., China and Cambodia): 153. The total constitutes 40% of the Catholic Church's jurisdiction.

Referring to the pope's appeal for spiritual and financial support for pontifical missionary operations, the cardinal offered statistics on Propaganda Fide-sponsored activities: 280 major inter-diocesan seminaries with a total of 65,000 seminarians; 110 minor seminaries having 85,000 seminarians; 42,000 schools; 1600 hospitals; 6000 heath care clinics; 780 leprosy care centers; 12,000 social and charitable organizations. These figures do not include assistance given by the missionaries themselves to individual parish communities in villages, missionary stations, etc.   

Social and charitable operations are not just aimed at helping Catholics but often times and especially non-Catholics and non-Christians.

Over the last few years, then, initiatives have been taken to give care to AIDS victims, particularly in Africa and in countries where the deadly disease has increased by 20 times this decade and where 3 persons die every 5 minutes. The same is true for malaria, cholera, diabetes, meningitis and blindness (the later caused by ancocercosis and affecting 71 million Africans). 

Some Chruch academic institutions and initiatives are active in Rome. One is the Pontifical Urban University, the only university in the world exclusively dedicated to forming missionaries, having 1300 students and 110 professors. Then there is the Pontifical College of Sts. Peter and Paul: two institutes for priests from mission countries in need of advanced studies and continuing education: 350 students; the Pontifical Urban College for the formation of seminarians from missionary countries: 140 students. The John Paul II Asian Cultural Center: 45 students from China and Vietnam. Not to be forgotten are the "Mater Ecclesiae" College for the formation of catechists (80 female religious) and the International Missionary Life Center for promotion of  "Ad Gentes" missionary activities.  
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