The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Vatican Boosts Catholic Population Increase Through Conversions in Africa

Tue February 1, 2005
By Philip Pullella

The number of Roman Catholics in the world is approaching 1.1 billion and growing fastest in Africa, according to Vatican statistics released on Monday.

The new statistics appeared to give support to recent forecasts that Catholicism is growing so fast in Africa that priests from the continent may one day be called upon to help ease the acute shortage of clerics in the West.

A statement on the Vatican's 2005 yearbook, to be published soon, showed that the number of Catholics in the world rose to 1.086 billion in 2003 from 1.071 billion in 2002.

The continent with the largest rate of growth in 2003 was Africa, which saw a 4.5 percent increase in the number of baptised Catholics. There also were increases in other parts of the developing world, with Asia posting a 2.2 percent rise.

The increase in the number of Catholics in Africa and Asia exceeded population growth, according to the latest World Bank data.

The number of Catholics in Europe remained "practically stable", the Vatican said.

According to the Centre for Study of Global Christianity, the number of Catholics is due to pass the 1.1 billion mark in 2005. World Christians, including Catholics, will number about 2.1 billion in 2005 and world Muslims about 1.3 billion.

The latest statistics were further proof that Catholicism, the largest branch of Christianity, is growing faster in the developing world while it faces stagnation in the traditional heartland of old Europe.

Church experts have said Africa, the continent that was once the proselytising target of Western missionaries, may one day be called on to "re-evangelise the West".

Participants at a meeting of European and African bishops in Rome last year were told that Africa could help to ease the acute shortage of Roman Catholic priests in Europe.

Just a few dozen Roman Catholic priests were ordained in England and Wales in 2004 while thousands are training to be priests in Nigeria alone.

Many European countries that once exported missionaries to the far-flung corners of the world are now importing them.

Priests from India already work throughout Italy, many of them filling posts in small country parishes.

In Rome, Pope John Paul's own back yard, priests from his native Poland and from Latin America work as assistant pastors.

Several years ago when the Pope visited a parish on Rome's outskirts he was flanked at the Mass by priests from Colombia and Nigeria.

"I believe priests from places like Nigeria can re-evangelise Europe," Archbishop John Onaiyekan, President of the Council of Bishops' Conference of Africa and Madagascar, told the Rome meeting last year.


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