02/29/2008, 00.00
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Number of Catholics worldwide increases: 1.31 billion in 2006

The Annuario Pontificio for 2008, presented today by Benedict XVI, also highlights the increase in the number of priests and seminarians. And it confirms the trend toward a greater presence in Asia and Africa, compared with Europe and America.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The number of Catholics in the world is increasing, if not by much: they were 1.31 billion in 2006, an increase of 1.4% compared to the 1.15 billion in 2005.  And there is a continuation of the trend that since 2000 has seen an increase in the number of priests, both diocesan and religious, who went from 406,411 in 2005 to 407,262 in 2006, an overall change of 0.21%.  These are some of the figures contained in the Annuario Pontificio for 2008, presented this morning by the pope.

Observing the presence of Catholics in relation to the number of the inhabitants of the various continents, it can be noted that Catholics make up 14% of the population of the population of the Americas, while the Americas have 49.8% of Catholics in the world.  Catholics make up just a slightly smaller percentage of Europe's population, but its importance in the Catholic world is clearly lower than that of the American countries (25%).  The proportion of Catholics in Asia is at 10.5%, lower than the continent's percentage of the world population, which is at around 61%.

But the trend of the number of priests present in Asia is on the rise.  Observing the distribution of priests by region, in fact, one can observe a decline in the presence of priests in Europe and America compared to Africa and Asia.  In terms of percentage, in fact, while in 2000 the overall number of priests working in Europe and the Americas represented 81% of the total, in 2006 they  dropped to 78%. The most striking positive variation is seen in Africa, where the proportion of priests in 2006 stood at around 8% of the worldwide total. In Asia, too, the number of priests moved higher, passing from 43,566 in 2000 to 51,281 in 2006.

There has also been growth in the number of those preparing for the priesthood. There are 115,480  students of philosophy and theology in the diocesan or religious seminaries, an increase of 0.9% compared to the previous year; 24,034 are in Africa, 37,150 in the Americas, 30,702 in Asia, 22,618 in Europe, and 976 in Oceania.

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