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from issue no. 01/02 - 2011


A window on the Church and the world.
The sense of statistics

On the occasion of the presentation of the 2011 Pontifical Yearbook, the Cardinal Dean of the Sacred College wrote this article for us in which he alludes to various aspects of the Church’s presence in the world: from the number of the pastors and faithful to the responsibility of the Roman Curia

by Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Sodano, 20 December 2010. Cardinal Sodano, fifty years in the service of the Holy See, was Secretary of State from 29 June 1991 until 2 April 2005, with John Paul II, and from 21 April 2005 until 15 September 2006 with the present Pontiff [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Sodano, 20 December 2010. Cardinal Sodano, fifty years in the service of the Holy See, was Secretary of State from 29 June 1991 until 2 April 2005, with John Paul II, and from 21 April 2005 until 15 September 2006 with the present Pontiff [© Osservatore Romano]


“I believe the Holy Catholic Church”: it is the profession of the faith that the Christian often repeats with the words of the Apostolic Symbol.
As is known, “symbol” is a Greek word that means a sign of identity, a sign of recognition. In the early Church such a document was created precisely to summarize the message of Christ handed down by the apostles and thus offer Christians a sign of recognition of their identity.
It is also significant that this formula of faith, in all its twelve articles, was definitively codified in the Church of Rome. In the ninth article, since the third century, we see faith explicitly affirmed in the Church that is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”. Also the catholicity of the Church was already well recognized as one of its principal notes.
Two millennia have passed since the risen Lord gave the universal missionary mandate to His Church and she, with ups and downs, has spread throughout the world and come down to us, supported by the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit.
Today even the most stubborn laicists cannot ignore the existence of this ecclesial reality nor can they disregard its action in transforming the lives of peoples. It is enough to take a synthetic look at the Church’s presence in the world, at the people and communities that comprise it, as well as the institutions that emanate from it.

The Pontifical Yearbook
A valuable tool to know the various aspects of the Church’s presence in the world is given in the Pontifical Yearbook that, from the mid 1800s to today, is published annually by the Holy See.
On 19 February last Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, with his Secretariat of State staff, presented Pope Benedict XVI with the 2011 Pontifical Yearbook. Thus a publication that dates back to Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) was continued, even if it then carried a more limited title: La gerarchia cattolica e la famiglia pontificia [The Catholic Hierarchy and the Pontifical Household].
In many libraries the successive volumes from its origins to the present can still be consulted. It’s always a comforting research on the history of the Church and its gradual spread around the world.
A valuable complement to the Pontifical Yearbook is the volume also published annually by the Secretariat of State, under the title: Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae. There, the statistic data are more closely examined and compared, country by country, continent by continent, with a comparative look at the various forms of apostolate existing in the Church.

Catholics in the world
According to the latest available data, baptized Catholics today are around a billion and 181 million, out of a world population of 6 billion and 698 million inhabitants.
Catholics, therefore, on the basis of the last Annuarium statisticum Ecclesiae make up 17.4% of the world’s population. The strongest presence of Catholics is registered in the Americas with their record 63.1% of the population. In Europe, Catholics are 40%. The presence of Christians in Europe, however, is much higher, if the other brothers who make up the Eastern Churches and the various communities born from the Reformation are also considered.
In Oceania, the Catholic presence is around 26.2%, in Africa 17.8% and in Asia 3.1%. And it is precisely Asia (within whose boundaries the Middle East is also incorporated) that constitutes the major challenge for the future work of evangelization of the Church. Already in 1998 the late Pope John Paul II invited us to reflect on this issue by convening a special synod at the Vatican in this regard.
I too had the joy of participating in this Synodal Assembly and I remember well the joint commitment then assumed to work in this direction. Asia, moreover, is the largest and most populous continent. Christianity was born there. There the Gospel of Christ experienced its first announcement. The commitment is understandable, then, so that also among these people the leaven of the Gospel may continue to permeate the cultures, directing them toward Christ.


Pastors and faithful
As every year, the 2011 Pontifical Yearbook also presents data relative to pastors, called to lead the Holy Church of Christ at the present time.
Obviously, there is in first place the Successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, placed by the Holy Spirit to preside over the Catholic community at this important time of history, at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium. Around the Pope the College of Cardinals figures in first place, called to help the Bishop of Rome in his broader mission as Pastor of the universal Church.
A long list of all the episcopal sees existing in the world then permits us to know the actual life of each of the individual Churches spread throughout the five continents, from those of the apostolic era to the most recent ones, formed in the course of 2010.
The 2011 Pontifical Yearbook tells us that today’s ecclesiastical dioceses come to almost three thousand (2,956 exactly). The number of bishops, however, is superior, because next to the bishop who leads each diocese, there is sometimes a coadjutor bishop, an auxiliary or one or more emeritus bishops. The total number of bishops thus arrives at 5,065. In each diocese there is then an adequate number of priests as provident cooperators of the bishop. All together (diocesan and religious) they now exceed 400 thousand (exactly 410,593). These figures allow us to gain an understanding of the extreme importance of their painstaking work in the vast field of action of the Church, in all the human realities. Often they are the unknown soldiers of the Kingdom of God
Along with the list of dioceses, the Pontifical Yearbook also gives us a list of various national and international Bishops’ Conferences and finally presents the important body of the Synod of Bishops, established by Pope Paul VI to promote their closer communion with the Roman Pontiff.

The Roman Curia
A quick look at the Pontifical Yearbook also enables us to become better acquainted from close up with the operational tool that the Pope uses to carry out his mission daily. I consider it important that this particular aspect of the life of the Church of Rome be stressed, because I spent most of my priesthood, for a good fifty years, doing this work in the Roman Curia.
Leafing through the Pontifical Yearbook we can browse over the various departments of the Curia, from those of the Secretariat of State to the Congregations, from the Tribunals to the Pontifical Councils, from the administrations to the various offices and commissions. As in a film, one can see the entire composition of the Roman Curia, as it was redesigned by the late Pope John Paul II with the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of 28 June 1988.
For my part I would like to recall here the spirit of service that animates the large family of these collaborators of the Holy Father. I was a direct witness, especially in the 16 years I was Secretary of State (15 years during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and a year at the beginning of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI).
Moreover, Pope Paul VI had already outlined the Roman Curia as “a permanent circle”, totally consecrated to the service of the holy Church of God.

The pontifical representations
Speaking of the collaborators of the Pope, I would not like to forget to emphasize the great service that is carried out by papal representatives around the world. The Pontifical Yearbook describes their presence in the greater part of the countries throughout the world. It is a presence that also has an official status with the 178 States with which the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations.
As is known, with the rise of modern States in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, permanent missions between States also began to form. The Roman pontiffs also, who until then had limited themselves to sending transitory representatives for some specific purpose, then resorted to this instrument of dialogue and permanent collaboration. Thus were born the first nunciatures in Spain, France and Germany, in Poland, as in the Republic of Venice, that then maintained useful contacts with all the Far East.
From history we can therefore see that the origin of these nunciatures was not connected only with official relations with States, but was aimed especially at maintaining and increasing the communion between the Apostolic See and the particular Churches. A typical example is the sending of apostolic nuncios to Germany, at the beginning of the Reformation, to respond to the expansion of Protestantism in the same region where it was born. At the end of the Council of Trent, the papal representatives in Spain, France, in the various States of the Italian peninsula also received from Pope St Pius V, as from Pope Gregory XIII and his successors, the task of having the conciliar decisions accepted. In fact, the implementation of the Tridentine reform in Europe was also the merit of the nuncios.

Serving the peoples
Each year’s Pontifical Yearbook brings us therefore to consider various other facets of Church activity, especially its social activity. The statistics show, in fact, all the work that the great religious Families perform, those who have embraced the evangelical counsels and who then placed themselves at the service of their neighbor, in the most diverse areas of assistance, charity and social promotion.
Then each year’s Pontifical Yearbook reveals the Church’s contribution to contemporary culture with its schools, its universities and its academies.
In summary, each year’s Pontifical Yearbook opens for us a window on the world and enables us to understand, at least in part, the works that the Apostolic See is carrying out to spread that Gospel of salvation, that Christ donated to us, to the ends of the earth.

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