The number of Catholics worldwide increased by an estimated 16 million in 2020 to 1.36 billion, according to statistics released on Friday by the Vatican.

The rise was in line with global population growth in the year that the coronavirus pandemic swept the planet, reported Vatican News, the online news portal of the Holy See. Catholics continued to account for 17.7% of the total world population.

The figures for 2020 — the most recent year where numbers are available — come from the 2022 edition of the Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook) and the 2020 Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (Statistical Yearbook of the Church), compiled by the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics.

As in previous years, the Church grew most rapidly in Asia (1.8%) and Africa (2.1%) and most modestly in Europe (0.3%).

Almost half (48%) of the world’s Catholics live in the Americas, with 28% located in South America.

The numbers of bishops worldwide saw a minute decline, from 5,364 in 2019 to 5,363 in 2020.

At the end of 2020, there were a total of 410,219 priests, a decrease of 4,117 compared to 2019. Although there was a fall in the number of priests in North America and Europe, there was a “significant increase” in Africa and Asia, reported Vatican News.

In 2020, around 40% of the world’s priests lived in Europe, 29% in the Americas, 17% in Asia, 12% in Africa, and 1% in Oceania.

The number of Catholics per priest worldwide rose from 3,245 in 2019 to 3,314 in 2020. In Europe, there was an average of 1,746 Catholics per priest, 2,086 in the Americas, and 5,089 in Africa.

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There was an increase in permanent deacons, from 48,238 in 2019 to 48,635 in 2020. The number in Europe dipped slightly from 15,267 to 15,170.

The number of male religious who are not priests grew worldwide from 50,295 in 2019 to 50,569 in 2020, with an increase seen in Africa (1.1%), Asia (2.8%) and Europe (4%) but a decrease in the Americas (-4%) and Oceania (-6%).

The number of women religious fell globally from 630,099 in 2019 to 619,546 in 2020, a drop of -1.7%. But there was a rise in Africa (3.2%) and Asia (0.2%), alongside a decrease in Europe (-4.1%), the Americas (-2.8%) and Oceania (-5.7%).

There were 111,855 seminarians in 2020, compared to 114,058 in 2019. There were notable decreases in Europe (-4.3%), the Americas (-4.2%), and Asia (-3.5%) but a rise of 2.8% (from 32,721 to 33,628) in Africa.