May 17, 2013 – The Numbers Game

You know, sometimes in life there is just so much excitement going on around us that we need an activity to sort of slow things down.  To even bore us, if you will.  Once in a while we may need to watch paint dry, or read the webmaster’s blog (WHAT!).  I just say this to prepare you for the basis of this week’s blog, which is going to talk about statistics.  I know statistics are not on the list of people’s most exciting thing to explore, but it’s sort of one of those necessary evils.  We need statistics to help us track trends and to allow us to further study why these trends are occurring.  This past week some statistics were released concerning the Catholic church worldwide, and I thought that I would share at least the summary of them with you.  I’ll try to keep this as painless as possible.   These statistics, by the way, come from the 2013 Pontifical Yearbook.

The number of Catholics worldwide rose from 1196 million in 2010 to 1214 million in 2011, an increase of 1.5%.  Since this growth is only slightly higher than that of the Earth’s population (1.23%), the presence of Catholics in the world remains essentially unchanged (17.5%).  The continents of Africa and Asia saw growth in number of Catholics above that of population growth, while the Americas and Europe saw growth in Catholic population pretty much right in line with overall population growth.

Globally, the presence of diocesan and religious priests has increased over time, growing in the last decade from 405,067  as of December 31, 2001, to 413,418 as of December 31, 2011 (+2.1%). However, these numbers vary greatly depending on the geographic region.  The dynamics of the number of priests in Africa and Asia is encouraging, with a +39.5% and +32.0% respectively (and with an increase of over 3,000 priests, for the two continents, in 2011 alone), while America remains stationary around an average of 122 thousand. Europe, in contrast to the global average, has seen a decrease of more than 9% in the past decade.  Though not part of the overall report summary, here are the trends in the number of priests in the United States:  In 1965: 58, 632.  In 1985: 57, 317.  In 2000: 45,699.  In 2012: 38,964.  It is not difficult to see in which direction the trend is going.

Those who have kept up with these numbers will not find anything particularly alarming thus far.  However, perhaps the most “unexpected” trend revealed in the report is the boom in the permanent diaconate, increasing from a total of more than 29,000 in 2001, to about 41,000 units a decade later (a spike of over 40%). Europe and America registered both the most numerically significant and vibrant trend. In fact, the European deacons, little more than 9,000 in 2001, were almost 14,000 in 2011, an increase of over 43%. In America the number grew from 19,100  in 2001 to more than 26,000 in 2011. These two continents, alone, account for 97.4% of the global total, with the remaining 2.6% split between Africa, Asia and Oceania.  This trend holds true in the United States, with the numbers going from 7,204 in 1975, to 12, 378 in 2000, to 17, 289 in 2012.  Fr. Gene could certainly speak muck more expertly on why this trend is occurring.  My thoughts are that because 1) this is still a relatively new ministry, having been re-established as part of Vatican II, 2) it is a vocation in which the gentleman can be married and still enter into, and 3)  there are more men such as school teachers, military, and others who are taking advantage of early retirement, yet are still vibrant enough to take o another vocation.  I’m sure there are others, but the point of emphasis here is that in the changing look of the church, permanent deacons will be asked to take on more of a pastoral presence.  They may do more baptisms, officiate at more weddings and funerals, hold more services in the absence of a priest, etc.

Not as surprising, though, is the trend in the number of women religious, with an overall decrease of 10% from 2001 to 2011. The decline particularly affects three continents (Europe, America and Oceania), with significant variations (-22% in Europe, -21% in Oceania and -17% in America). In Africa and Asia, however, there has been a sustained increase of more than 28% and 18% respectively . Consequently, the fraction of professed religious in Africa and Asia out of the global total increased from 24.4% to about 33%, at the expense of Europe and America, whose dropped respectively by a total of 74% to 66%.

OK, if you are still awake, then what does all of this mean?  It means that e continue to see a changing church.  We continue to see  decline in clergy in our neck of the woods, while less secularized areas such as Africa are seeing  a boom in vocations.  This has meant a great deal to our local area over the last 5-10 years, as many of the international priests whom are serving as missionaries in our Diocese are from Africa.  However, there is no guarantee that we will continue to receive this aid, which is why it is important for us to continue to work on the Diocesan Pastoral Plan in an open and cooperative manner.  Our parish council will have a joint meeting this coming Wednesday with the parish council of St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove.  Please pray for us as we continue to develop a plan of partnership.

Quickly turning to another subject – those of you who have been regular readers of this blog know that a few years ago I was hesitant to enter the realm of social media.  However, I am now a Facebook fanatic.  I am posting items almost daily on our Facebook group page.  In fact, it may be an annoyance to some people that I continually fill their wall with tidbits that I find.  I felt sort of guilty about this until now.  Pope Francis, who is continually sharing golden nuggets of wisdom in his daily homilies, said this yesterday: “There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal. Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this Apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church, the grace to go out to the outskirts of life. The Church has so much need of this!…So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!’ ”  So to those who think I am a holy pain in the you-know-what, Pope Francis and I say THANK YOU!

Have a great week.  Peace.

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