The Catholic Information Service for Africa reports that Africa is the leading continent in the growth of the worldwide Catholic Church.
The 2007 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook presented to Benedict XVI on 12 February, showed a 5 per cent increase in the number of Catholics.
The 2,400-page volume, which offers a numerical overview of the state of the Church, also showed there was an increase of 3.1 per cent in the number of Catholics in Africa, whose population has grown by slightly less than 2.5 per cent.
"The Asian and American continents have also registered a higher increase in Catholics than in population growth," the Vatican statement went on.
In Asia for instance, Catholics increased to 2.71 per cent from 1.18 per cent while America had an increase of 1.2 per cent from 0.9 per cent. Europe registered the lowest increase.
The book revealed the number of diocesan and religious priests in Asia and Africa rose to 3.8 per cent and 3.55 per cent respectively.
"Africa and Asia together provided 19.58 per cent to the world's overall number in 2004; in 2005 their contribution had risen to 20.28 per cent," read the statement.
This is in contrast to "Europe and America with a percentage decrease of about a half point, and Australia, with a fall of 1.8 per cent " in the number of priests.
The Americas maintained a percentage of around 29.8 per cent, while Oceania stayed stable, at slightly over 1 per cent of the world's priests, according to the communique.
"In 2005, out of every 100 candidates to the priesthood in the whole world, 32 were American, 26 Asian, 21 African, 20 European and one from Oceania."
In 2004-2005, the number of religious and diocesan priests passed from 405,891 to 406,411 (a growth of 0.13 per cent). However, the distribution of priests differed from continent to continent, with their numbers growing in Africa and Asia (respectively, by 3.8 per cent and 3.55 per cent) and falling in Europe and America (by 0.5 per cent), and in Oceania (by 1.8 per cent).
Number of world's Catholics remains steady, number of priests grows slightly (Catholic News Agency, 13/2/07)
Africa Tops List in Growth of Catholics, Priests (Catholic Information Service for Africa, 13/2/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Annuario Pontificio (Wikipedia)
14 Feb 2007