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from issue no. 12 - 2004

The number of nuns in the world

Vocations decrease but not those for the cloister

by Gianni Cardinale

Over the past thirty years the number of nuns has decreased by a quarter, but this large decrease doesn’t seem to have greatly affected cloistered convents.
In a documented article published in October by the monthly Rogate ergo, dedicated specifically to the consecrated life, a table was given that showed that the number of nuns had diminished between 1970 and 2002 from over a million to less than 800,000, a decrease of about 26 per cent.
The same edition of the Rogationists’ periodical also noted that «female vocations to the contemplative life have everywhere increased, in Lazio as much as by 50 per cent».
On the occasion of the World Cloister Day, celebrated on 21 November last, the Secretariat for Assistance to Nuns published data that showed the presence of contemplative nuns in the world. The number of convents throughout the world is 3,529 with 47,626 nuns and over 8,100 novices/postulants. Europe is the continent with most convents (2,252), followed in order by America (904), Asia (227), Africa (123) and Oceania (23). More than half of nuns, (29,788 professed and 3,179 novices and postulants) are to be found on the Old Continent. Worldwide the most numerous contemplative religious orders are the Franciscans (about 12,650 nuns), Benedictines (about 10,800) and Carmelites (12,200, of whom 802 are of “old observance”).
As for Italy, the female cloistered convents number 468 with 6,672 nuns and 321 novices. The religious Orders with most convents are the Franciscans (114 Clares , 34 Capuchins, 1 Eremite and 3 Tertiary), followed by the Benedictine Order with 99 convents (78 Benedictine, 12 Cistercian, 2 Carthusian, 5 Camaldolesians, 2 Trappist), and then the Carmelite (77). In Italy there are also 32 Dominican convents, 29 Visitandine, 25 Augustinian and 11 Passionist.

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