Religion news in brief

Vatican City - The Roman Catholic Church experienced its greatest growth in Africa and Asia between 2004 and 2005, according to new statistics released by the Vatican.

In Africa, the Catholic population increased 3.1 percent, while the number jumped 2.7 percent in Asia from the period, the Catholic News Service reported Monday. The rise in the number of Catholics in the Americas was just 1.2 percent.

The trend was similar for priests.

Of the more than 400,000 priests worldwide, Asia saw the greatest increase, 3.8 percent, followed by Africa at 3.6 percent, while Europe and the Americas showed a decrease in the number of priests by about half a percentage point.

By the end of 2005, Africa and Asia accounted for just over 20 percent of the world's priests, compared to 11 percent two decades earlier. Europe had nearly 49 percent, compared to 58 percent in the same period, while the numbers for the Americas remained relatively unchanged - about 30 percent.

At the end of 2005, the worldwide Catholic population was about 1.1 billion, a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year, the Vatican said.