Just 22% of the world’s Catholics live in Europe, and yet the continent is home to 42% of the world’s priests, according to Vatican statistics published this week.

Driving the news

Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, published Saturday a snapshot in statistics of the Church around the world on the occasion of World Mission Day this Sunday.

Those numbers revealed that at the end of 2017 there were 285,771,000 Catholics in Europe, an increase of 259,000 on the previous year: some 39.74% of the population of the continent.


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Of the more than 1.31 billion Catholics worldwide at the end of 2017, around 637 million live in North and South America, 234 million in Africa, 145 million in Asia, and 11 million in Oceania.

Of the 414,582 priests in the world, exactly 173,611 – a little over four out of every ten – live in Europe.

North and South America are home to 122,487, Africa to 46.421, Asia to 67.442 and Oceania to 4.621.

The figures mean that even though Europe lost 2.946 priests between 2016 and 2017, the continent still had by far the best ratio of Catholics, and non-Catholics, to priest.

In Europe at the close of 2017 there was one priest for every 1,646 Catholics.

That’s compared to one for every 5,042 Catholics in Africa, one for every 5,204 Catholics in North and South America, one for every 2,157 Catholics in Asia, and one for every 2,303 Catholics in Oceania.

The Fides figures also reveal that Europe continues to be home to the majority of the world’s religious (14,865 male religious and 231,413 female religious).

Most of the world’s permanent deacons, however, are concentrated in North and South America, however (30,813 , compared to 14,819 in Europe).

At the end of 2017, Africa had just 465 permanent deacons.

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Why it matters

Despite the historical dominance of Europe reflected in the Fides statistics, the numbers revealed that the future of the Church is in Africa, Asia and the Americas, the continents with the highest number of men in major and minor seminaries.

The statistics are sure to provide a talking point at the ongoing Amazon Synod in the Vatican, where participants are looking into possible solutions to the drop in vocations, including ordaining married men to the priesthood and women to the diaconate.

The distribution of priests and religious in the world “is not good”, Bishop Johnny Eduardo Reyes, apostolic vicar of Puerto Ayacucho, Venezuela, lamented at the Synod Tuesday.

Bishop Wellington de Queiroz Vieira of Cristalândia in Brazil added Wednesday that Synod participants must attempt to solve the “lack of a missionary spirit” in many priests and religious, “a willingness to go to border areas or difficult areas”.