VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The 2009 Pontifical Yearbook recorded that the number of Catholics worldwide increased by 1.4% from 2006-2007, just over the world population growth, which in the same period increased by 1.1%.
Priestly vocations also grew, though less (0.4%), but with notable differences between the continents: While Europe is witnessing a recession, Africa and Asia are experiencing an increase in vocations.
These are the main conclusions drawn from the "Annuario Pontificio," the official Vatican publication that gathers up-to-date statistical data on the worldwide Church. The volume was presented to Benedict XVI on Saturday.
The latest edition covers data relating to the growth from 2006 to 2007, explained a Vatican communiqué. According to the statistics, the number of Catholics in the world has increased from 1.131 billion to almost 1.147 billion in one year, 17.3% of the total population, a percentage that has remained stable from one year to another.
The yearbook reported that in this same period the number of bishops also increased by 1%, especially in Oceania and Africa, growing from 4,898 to 4,946 in total. America and Europe continue to hold the majority of the prelates, with 70% of the total number of bishops living on these continents.
The communiqué explains that priestly vocations continue to grow moderately, "after more than two decades that were rather disappointing." Numbering 407,262 in 2006, they increased to 408,024 at the end of the following year, but with notable differences among continents: If in Africa and Asia the increase was more than 20% (27.6% and 21.2% respectively), in Europe and Oceania they decreased by 6.8% to 5.5% in each case.
The number of permanent deacons increased significantly, rising approximately 4.1% between 2006 and 2007. At present they number 35,942, with Europe and America accounting for 98% of these ministers.
The number of seminarians increased by 0.4% -- at present they number 115,919 worldwide. However, while they increased in Africa and Asia, they decreased considerably in Europe (-2.1%) and America (-1%).
During the presentation of the latest edition of the yearbook, the Pope leafed through the book and thanked all those who worked on its collection, members and collaborators of the Church's Central Statistical Office, headed by Monsignor Vittorio Formenti.
The yearbook offers institutional information on canonical demarcations and institutions worldwide. The latest edition introduces the new dioceses created by Benedict XVI in 2008: one metropolitan see and 11 new episcopal sees, as well as juridical changes in four metropolitan sees, two episcopal sees and one apostolic vicariate.
The yearbook has been officially published since 1912. It is compiled by the Vatican Secretariat of State, specifically the general affairs section.