VATICAN CITY—The number of Catholics in the world reached 1.045 billion, about 17.4% of the global population, the Vatican reported.

The statistics, from 1998, were included in an updated pontifical yearbook presented to Pope John Paul II on Feb. 5.

The number of Catholics represented a new high, up about 40 million from 1997, and the percentage of the global population marked a slight increase, too.

The Americas, considered as a single continent by the Vatican, had the strongest concentration of Catholics in the general population, with 63.1%. It was followed by Europe with 41.4%, Oceania with 26.9%, Africa with 15.6% and Asia with 3.1%.

Of the total Catholic population, 49.5% lived in the Americas, 27.8% in Europe, 11.4% in Africa, 10.5% in Asia and 0.8% in Oceania, the Vatican said.

The statistics showed a slight increase in the number of priests worldwide, which went from 404,208 in 1997 to 404,626 in 1998.

The number of seminarians also rose, from 109,171 in 1997 to 109,828 in 1998.

“The increase in the number of candidates for the priesthood appears especially satisfactory in the churches in Africa and America, particularly in Latin America.

In Europe the situation has remained unchanged in the western area and has shown a strong resurgence in the east,” a Vatican statement said.

Worldwide, the statistics showed a continuing increase in the numbers of permanent deacons, lay missionaries and catechists.

The number of people officially involved in the Church's pastoral activity in 1998 was 3,692,582. That includes 4,439 bishops, 264,202 diocesan priests, 140,424 religious priests, 25,345 permanent deacons, 57,813 non-priest religious men, 814,779 religious women, 30,772 members of secular institutes, 56,421 lay missionaries and 2,298,387 catechists. (From combined wire services)