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Vatican yearbook details progress, regress of world’s sacramental life

Ukrainian child being baptized

Nataliia Suietska | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 06/03/23

Annual report cites "downward trend in birthrate" behind the fall-off in baptisms.

There are more than 1.3 billion Catholics in the world, or 17.7% of the global population, according to the latest edition of an annual Vatican report.

The newly issued Statistical Yearbook of the Church, published by the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics, says there were more than 13.7 million baptisms in 2021. More than 11.1 million of those – 81% – were baptisms of children under the age of 7. It’s a significant decline from 1991, when the Church baptized 18.1 million people worldwide – 89% of whom were under the age of 7.

The Statistical Yearbook attributed the decline, at least in part, to the “downward trend in the birthrate in most countries.”

Indeed, The Economist magazine reported June 1 that “across much of the world the fertility rate, the average number of births per woman, is collapsing.” 

The Vatican yearbook showed mixed results in evangelization efforts. In Africa, the percentage of baptisms of people over the age of 7 grew from 33% in 2016 to 36% in 2021. That rate held steady in Europe, at 4.5%, while in North America it fell off slightly, from 8.7% to 8.6%. Middle Eastern baptisms over the age of 7 fell from 4.5% to 2.9%. 

There were 1.8 million church weddings around the world in 2021, down sharply from 1991, when there were 3.8 million. In the latest statistics, 9.2% of weddings involved a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic. Oceania had the highest percentage of nuptials between Catholics and non-Catholics, at 28.3%, and Central America the lowest – 1.7%. North America saw 20.2% of all Catholics getting married in church taking on a non-Catholic spouse. 

In 2021, there were 8.5 million people around the world receiving Communion for the first time – an average of 6.2 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics. The ratio was highest in Asia, with 9.1 first Communions for every 1,000 Catholics. The US had 7.3 per 1,000, better than the ratio throughout the Americas of 5.2.

The yearbook also reported 7.3 million people being confirmed in 2021.

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