Nigeria Catholics make up only 25 per cent of Nigeria’s Christians. Nevertheless, the Nigerian Church is thriving – and staunchly traditional. Writing in the New York Times, Matthew Schmitz described how, “in front of 2,500 worshipers, Bishop Gregory Ochiagha performed the first traditional Latin ordination in Nigeria since the vernacular liturgy was introduced after Vatican II.” Those ordained that day in August add their names to the 4,100 priests serving more than 23 million faithful. Remarkably, when the last survey was conducted in 2004, there were almost as many seminarians as ordained clergy.
Democratic Republic of the Congo In May, the Vatican said the DRC’s Catholic population had reached 43.2 million. It’s grown threefold in the last 35 years. And, despite the low life expectancy – especially for priests, who are routinely targeted for kidnapping and assassination – vocations are relatively steady. Between 2006 and 2013, with only two major seminaries, the Congolese priesthood grew by 70 men. Not that they ordained only 70, mind you: they kept pace with priests who died or retired, with plenty more to continue serving their rapidly growing laity.
The Philippines The Filipino bishops have made headlines around the world recently for their courageous opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s death squads. They certainly have the manpower: over 80 per cent of the country professes the faith, and 40 per cent attend Mass at least once a week. That number is growing, too. In 2015, there were more baptisms in this one country than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland put together. The country’s Catholic population is expected to grow from 80 million to 100 million by 2050.
Spain In 1588, the Spanish Armada set sail for England, led by a consecrated banner which read: “Arise, O Lord, and avenge thy cause.” Today, just 15 per cent of Spaniards attend Mass. The average age of priests is upwards of 65. As of 2009, almost half of parishes had no priest in permanent residence, and rural pastors may be responsible for more than their own congregations. Female vocations have been hit hard, too. Between 1992 and 2017, the number of cloistered convents in Seville dropped from 41 to 15. Even then, a sizeable portion – in some convents, the majority – of the nuns come from South America.
Germany The Catholic Church in Germany has survived religious war against the Lutherans, persecution by the Nazis and occupation by the Soviets. It’s ill-prepared, however, for the crisis of modernity. Only 58 men were ordained in 2016 – not nearly enough to replenish its dying priesthood. Since 1990, the number of priests in Germany has sunk from 20,000 to 14,000. And discipline is lax: a study commissioned by the country’s bishops in 2015 showed that only 46 per cent of clerics had been to Confession in the past year.
Australia Even before the royal commission into child abuse, the Church in Australia was in dire straits. In 2013, the Australian bishops reported that total weekly attendance had fallen by 13,000. Were it not for immigration from the developing world, the numbers would have been considerably worse: over the same period, there was a boost in 69,000 from Catholics born outside the Anglosphere. They now account for 34 per cent of all regular communicants. The number of priests dropped from 3,895 in 1971 to 3,063 in 2014. There were 226 diocesan seminarians that year – almost half of the 546 training for the priesthood in 1969.
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