The future of the Church is in Asia and Africa—this is the main conclusion of a comparative study of the number of priestly ordinations celebrated by country in recent years. The stagnation of the American continent and the decline of Europe are confirmed.
Every three years, Georgetown University—more precisely, its Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA)—publishes a statistical report on the life of the Church in the United States and the world. The raw data in this report are provided by the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesia regularly updated by the Vatican, then synthesized and supplemented by CARA.
The report published on July 10, 2019 is rich in lessons: first, the countries that provided the most priests in relation to the number of inhabitants are Myanmar (one priest ordained for 8,193 faithful counted), Thailand (one for 10,514), Togo (one for 12,381), Vietnam (one for 12,843), and Bangladesh (one for 12,967). In sum, four Asian countries and one African country are among the leaders of Catholic dynamism.
Then come Mali, Eritrea, India, Romania, South Korea, Sri Lanka, etc. At number 49 can be found the United Kingdom, immediately followed by the United States.
Germany comes in 75th, Ireland barely drags in at 78th, Brazil 85th, France 99th, while the award for de-priesting (déprêtrisation)—to use the sinister term of Fouché, who, in 1793, wanted to eliminate all traces of the priesthood—returns to Belgium (108th place).
However, it is advisable to not be mistaken, this CARA study provides only a partial and non-exhaustive idea of the vitality of the national churches. The Philippines, for example, ranks 95th, while its society is one of the most Christian in the world.
Nevertheless, the report reveals that large parts of the Church in Asia are growing beyond all expectation. It remains to analyze why Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, to name but a few, are capable of producing such an abundance of priestly vocations, despite the relatively small numbers of their Catholic population.
Is the transmission of faith stronger? Has Tradition remained more alive? Does the often-persecuted minority status illustrate Tertullian’s adage that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christendom”? So many questions which the historians of Catholicism will have to answer.