The Catholics Come Home TV spots showing about the country right now have different focuses. One spot is titled "Epic". That's the one that starts with Mariachi dancers and begins with the words “Our family”.
“Epic” spends it’s two minutes doing a kind of apologetics: covering the breadth of the Church, “men and women, sinners and saints”, it’s size, “over one billion in our family”, it’s accomplishments, “the largest charitable organization on the planet”, “educates more children” and it’s history, “we compiled the Bible”, “cities were named for our revered saints”, “2,000 years”, etc.
The Church is described as a “family”, a poignant word which is used 4 times in those 2 minutes as a synonym for Church. The message: we are a huge, ancient, strong, and honorable family of God, a trustworthy, compassionate shelter and refuge in painful times, and we are not going anywhere. You can be proud of bearing the name “Catholic”. We are your family. Wherever you are, wherever you have been, you are welcome home.
In light of the Catholics Come Home campaign, I thought it would be interesting to look a bit closer at our family, courtesy of Fides' downloadable 2009 Dossier on the life of the Church as of December 31, 2007.
The basics in 2007:
74.2 million new citizens were added to planet earth in 2007.
That's over 2 million new human beings on this planet every 24 hours.
Nearly 16 million new Catholics were baptized. A mind-blowing average of 43,578 new Catholics every 24 hours.
And consider that these numbers were as of two years ago. Were another 32 million added to our numbers in the past two years? Will something like 300,000 new Catholics be added during this week between Christmas and New Years? Which doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of lapsed Catholics who may come home during the next few weeks as a result of the CCH campaign.
1,146,656,000 Catholics in all by New Year's Eve, 2007. Up a scootch to 17.33% of the human race. 107 years ago on the eve of the 20th century, there were only 266.6 million Catholics. A 433% increase.
Priests and Seminarians
The global number of Catholic priests rose by 762 to 408,024. In fact, there has been slow, incremental growth since 1990 when there were only 403,173 priests in the world. A growth of 4,851 additional priests over a period of 17 years. A 1.2% growth overall. Bishops and priests together make up .036% of the body Catholic. 99.964% of all Catholics can not consecrate the Eucharist.
There has been significant growth in the number of seminarians though it is tricky figuring how exactly how much. CARA says that there were 58,960 “graduate level” seminarians in 2007 which would be up from a low of a low of 33,731 in 1980, a 75% increase over 17 years.
But Fides says that there were 115,919 “major” seminarians in 2007. In the US, “graduate level” and “major” seminarian are usually synonyms, but this cannot be universal or there wouldn’t be such wild differences between the numbers. In any case, the priestly pipeline continues to grow. Mostly in the global south: Africa and Asia, not in the west.
The reason that we haven’t noticed this growth at a practical pastoral level is that for every new priest in 2007, there were 20,784 new Catholics! The number of new priests would have to be at least ten times higher to keep pace with global Catholic population growth.
As I have said here before, it is ultimately success, not collapse, that fuels our present priest shortage. The primary culprit is not doctrine or catechesis or liturgy. "The culprit" is success: better health care, better food, better water, the elimination of certain epidemics, lower infant mortality, and longer life spans.
Priestly presence and lay leadership
There are 124,642 "Mission Stations" without a resident priest by the end of 2007, an increase of 5,159. (What exactly constitutes a "mission station" was not defined - but with the numbers involved, I presume that it must include every Catholic institution to which a priest could be assigned - including all parishes.) CARA says that there are 51,330 parishes in the world without a pastor in 2007 or 23.5% which is a slight decrease from 2005.
It is a good thing the number of lay catechists and missionaries continues to grow. The number of lay missionaries in the world increased by 33,696 in 2007 to a total of 250,464 The biggest increase was in America (which includes North, Central, and Latin America in Vatican reckoning). Lay catechists in the world increased by 6,665 to a total of nearly 3 million: 2,993,354.
Lay missionaries and catechists are 70% of the 4,494,277 Catholic “pastoral workers” in the world. Bishops and priests constitute 10%. Deacons, religious, and seminarians make up the remaining 20%.
As to the impact of Catholic educational and charitable organizations, the numbers are most impressive:
In 2007. nearly 58 million children and young adults were educated in well over 200,000 Catholic institutions world-wide. (To keep these numbers in perspective, consider that only 23 nations on the planet have a population larger than 58 million.)
In addition. the Church ran 105,912 hospitals, orphanages, clinics, homes for lepers, the elderly, and the disabled in 2007. Not to mention the 218,383 parishes and over 190,000 missions in the world with all the formal and informal assistance they routinely and quietly provide those who reside nearby.
Try this thought experiment for a moment. Try to imagine the consequences for the human race if these 700,000+ Catholic institutions disappeared suddenly from the planet (as some would like). What a human catastrophe that would be.
What a family! After reading this, go and watch that "Epic" Catholic Come Home spot again.
You'll see your family through new eyes.