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Ranks of Priests Up; Women Religious Down

ROME, OCT. 24, 2005 (Zenit) - Catholics are increasing in number in all continents except Europe, according to new Church data.

According to data taken from the latest edition of the Church's statistical yearbook, as of year-end 2003, baptized Catholics increased by 0.3%, and now comprise 17.23% of the world's population. The data were reported by Fides, an agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, on the occasion of World Mission Sunday.

The data also reflect a slight increase in the number of priests, a decrease in the number of women religious, and a sizable growth of lay missionaries and catechists.

The number of Catholics grew by over 15 million, totaling more than 1.085 billion worldwide.

The number of Catholics increased in Africa by 0.34%, America by 0.17%, Asia by 0.03% and Oceania by 0.37%. Europe decreased by 0.31%.

The number of persons per priest in the world increased by 156 (the overall ratio was 12,264 to 1). By continent, the numbers were as follows: increase in America (+63) and Europe (+57) and Oceania (+13); decrease in Africa (-409) and Asia (-450).

The number of Catholics per priest in the world increased by 35 (the overall ratio was 2,677 to 1). By continent: increase in America (+51) and Europe (+12), in Africa (+29), Oceania (+13); Asia same as last year (average 2,407 Catholics per priest).

The number of ecclesiastical circumscriptions increased by 10, to 2,893, with increases on every continent.

Mission stations with resident priests numbered 1,701 (272 more than the previous year) with an increase on every continent, except Africa.

Mission stations without a resident priest increased by 3,068 units, to 112,115. Increases were registered in Africa (+416), America (+4,553) end Europe (+4), decrease in Asia (-1,710) and Oceania (-195).

Bishops

The number of bishops in the world increased by 47, to 4,742. The numbers increased on every continent, markedly in Europe (+23).

Diocesan bishops numbered 2,597 (928 fewer than the previous year), religious bishops increased by 975, to 2,145. Diocesan bishops increased in Africa but decreased in Europe (-615) and America (-249), religious bishops increased on all continents, markedly in Europe (+638) and America (+ 256)

The total number of priests in the world increased by 392, to 405,450. The highest increases were in Africa (+1,145) and Asia (+1,010). Only Europe posted a loss (-1,897).

Diocesan priests increased by 707, with increases on all continents except Europe, which lost 1,021. Religious priests decreased by 315. The only continent with an increase was Asia (+447).

Permanent deacons increased by 1,427, to 31,524. The biggest increases were in the Americas (+1,075) and Europe (+336). Only Asia showed a decrease (-3).

Permanent diocesan deacons numbered 31,000, up 1,499, with increases on all continents. Religious permanent deacons numbered 524, down 72 the previous year. Only Oceania posted an increase (+1).

Brothers decreased by 208, to 54,620. Increases were seen in Africa (+231) and Asia (+327); decreases were reported in Europe (-309), the Americas (-394) and Oceania (-63).

Women religious

The number of women religious fell 6,663, to 776,269. Decreases were reported in Europe (-9.397), the Americas (-2.843) and Oceania (-297); increases were seen in Asia (+3,445) and Africa (+2,429).

The members of male secular institutes totaled 691, an overall increase of 121 compared with the previous year. All continents posted a rise.

Members of female secular institutes also increased, by 720, to a total of 28,916. Only one continent, Asia, saw a decrease (-41).

The number of lay missionaries increased by 28,586, to 172,331, with increases on all continents. Most lay missionaries are in the Americas (156,461); their ranks there rose by 21,815.

Catechists in the world increased by 80,222, to 2,847,673. Increases were posted on all continents, notably in the Americas (+53,675) and Europe (+15,672).

Seminarians

The number of major seminarians, diocesan and religious, decreased by 826, to a total of 112,373.

Overall increases were posted in Asia (+686) and Oceania (+9). Diocesan major seminarians fell by 711, to 72,266; and religious seminarians fell by 115, to 40,107. Both categories decreased in Africa, the Americas and Europe; but increased in Asia. In Oceania, diocesan seminarians increased and religious seminarians decreased.

Minor seminarians, diocesan and religious, increased by 1,411, to 98,372. Increases were posted only in Europe (+84) and Oceania (+57). Minor diocesan seminarians fell by 1,081, to 75,562; religious fell by 330, to 22,810.

Both categories decreased in Africa and the Americas. Asia showed an decrease in diocesan and increase in religious.

Europe saw an increase in diocesan seminarians, and a decrease in religious. Oceania showed an increase in both categories.

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