As the old year of 2014 ended and 2015 was about to begin, the Holy See issued its annual report, which showed that the number of Catholics world-wide continues to grow, and that growth is evident across all continents. However, within the numbers there appears another notable trend, and that is that a vast majority of the growth in the Church is occurring in countries commonly referred to as the “Third World,” or some of the poorest regions on the planet. What’s more, the number of priests in the world showed a net increase of 895, but this is largely due to a comparatively massive increase in the number of priests in Asia (1,364 new priests) and Africa (1,076 new priests). Further, a large decrease in the number of women religious worldwide seems to be buffered by increases in the number of women religious in Africa and Asia.
The Church and those dedicated to her mission of spreading the Gospel are growing the most in parts of the world which have very little, and some of the areas where the Catholic Church is seeing its most vital increase in vocations and new members, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are places where there were far fewer Catholics a century ago. Meanwhile, in Europe and in North America, the number of priests and religious are sinking drastically as a whole (although thankfully those numbers continue to be on the rise here in the Diocese of Knoxville). What to Europe, especially Western Europe, and North America have that might be impeding them from enjoying the fruits of the spiritual harvest that is apparently happening in other parts of the world? Well, the hypothesis may be mine alone, but what Europe and North America share is an incredible percentage of the world’s wealth, while Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and tropical Latin America lack much of this wealth.
The faith seems to be growing the most among the very poor to whom Christ came to preach glad tidings. In the Lord’s own words (Mark 10:25):
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Are our own blessings and our own affluence causing some of us to take the faith for granted, while so many others in our affluent society are simply losing their faith, while the poor of this world are finding the God who loves them? Something to ponder and pray about in this New Year.