(Posted by guest blogger Dr. Matthew Bunson)
For those who may not be familiar with it, the Annuario Pontificio, or Pontifical Yearbook, is an annual publication of the Central Office of Church Statistics in the Vatican that offers remarkable details on the Holy See, the Roman Curia (or central government of the Church), bishops and dioceses all around the world, and even a listing of every monsignor currently in service. For those of us who follow the Church’s bureaucratic life, it is one of the year’s must have books, along with the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, the statistical book published every year by the Vatican Secretariat of State, that crunches the Catholic numbers for literally every region and country in the world.
The Annuario for 2010 was just published, and while you may be wondering what this has to do with vocations, the answer is quite a bit actually.
First, the Annuario for 2010 tells us that the number of Catholics has increased worldwide, (up 1.7%) to 1.166 billion baptized Catholics worldwide; there is also an increase in the percentage of Catholics who make up the global population (from 17.33% to 17.40%).
And here is the really relevant part: There was a slight increase (around 1% between 2000 and 2008) in the number of diocesan and religious priests, from 405,178 in 2000 to 409,166 in 2008.
Europe still has the most priests; nearly half of the world’s priests serve there (47.1%), followed by the Americas (30%), Asia (13.2%), Africa (8.7%), and then Oceania (1.2%).
This is essentially unchanged from the previous years, but what is important to note is that the percentage in Europe has declined from 51.5% to 47.1%, while the percentages have increased in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. This is not a big surprise as we have been hearing for years about the overall drop in the numbers of priests from Europe, just as we have seen similar declines in North America compared to Latin America. This has as much to do with the demographic deterioration of Western Europe as anything else, although vocations to the priesthood are still remarkably healthy in Eastern Europe.
The really good news, however, is the world’s numbers of candidates for the priesthood. We have heard about and even seen slight upticks in the number of new seminarians over the last years, but the 2010 Annuario helps to confirm the increase. It may not seem a huge bump (rising from 115,919 in 2007 to 117,024 in 2008, or an increase of 1%), but it demonstrates that the new vocations that are exploding in such areas as Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe are now overcoming the declines in Western Europe and North America. In the United States, of course, vocations are also on the rise (again, not by leaps and bounds, but slowly and visibly), but we have a long way to go. Overall, there are increased vocations in Africa (3.6%), Asia (4.4%), and Oceania (up 6.5%), while declines were recorded in Europe (down 4.3%). In the Americas collectively, the numbers have stayed about the same.
The 2010 Annuario brings great news for all of us, and it is a useful reminder that the Church’s vital enterprise of fostering new vocations must be looked at globally.
Which brings me to the remarkable speech I wanted to mention by the papal nuncio (or ambassador) to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. For those not familiar with him, Archbishop Sambi is a long-time Vatican diplomat who has served all over the world, including as the papal representative to Israel. He was named nuncio to the U.S. in 2005.
On September 28th last year, Archbishop Sambi gave an address to the 46th annual National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD). His speech was memorable and worth studying both this month and next. The nuncio places the responsibility for fostering vocations squarely within the context of the Church. He declared, “It is true that the priestly vocation is a mysterious gift. It is a gift from God; it is a gift to the Church.” He then quoted Pope John Paul II’s famed Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis:
The Church therefore is called to safeguard this gift, to esteem it, and love it. She is responsible for the birth and the development of priestly vocations. Consequently, the pastoral work of promoting vocations has as its active agents, as its protagonists, the ecclesial community as such, in its various expressions.
The Archbishop extended his thoughts to the opportunity we have to foster vocations in our daily lives. While he was speaking to vocation directors, his words are very germane to all of us:
I am deeply convinced that today like yesterday the Lord gives the needed vocation to his church. Maybe today differently from yesterday it’s changing the way to discover vocations and to propose in the name of Jesus Christ vocation to the youth today…Many young people of today, they don’t know what to do with their life. They suffer a great sense of emptiness. They are terribly unsure about their future. Don’t be ashamed to call people openly to priesthood or to religious vocation in the name of Jesus Christ. This is a small problem that I can understand that can deceive you and your enthusiasm…If you love your priesthood, if you love your priesthood, you want to speak about your love. You don’t speak about what you don’t love. But if you love your vocation, you speak with even enthusiasm of your vocation. So before saying there are no vocations today, try to convince yourself and to convince the priests of your diocese to speak more frequently and more openly about vocation today.
Archbishop Sambi noted that there are six areas in the Church named in Pastores Dabo Vobis that are responsible for fostering vocations: the bishop, the presbyterate, the Christian family, the lay faithful, groups, movements, and associations of lay faithful, and diocesan and parish communities. Archbishop Sambi placed particular stress on the family, declaring, “A very special responsibility falls upon the Christian family, which by virtue of the sacrament of matrimony shares in its own unique way in the educational mission of the Church - teacher and mother…. The Christian family, which is truly a ‘domestic Church’ has always offered and continues to offer favorable conditions for the birth of vocations.”
In effect, the job for fostering vocations is not only the responsibility of bishop, priests, and vocation directors. It is a task for all of us. And reading the newest Annuario Pontificio, it is a universal task as well.
Next month, I will look at Archbishop Sambi’s meditation on the vocation of the young Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.