Number of Muslims ahead of Catholics, says Vatican Tom Kington in Rome The Guardian, Monday March 31 2008 The number of Muslims has overtaken that of Roman Catholics for the first time, the Vatican said yesterday. Muslims account for 19.2% of the world's population, while Catholics make up 17.4%, according to the Vatican's new statistics yearbook, which is based on figures for 2006. "For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," said Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who edited the yearbook. "While it is known that Muslim families continue to have many children, Christian families are having fewer," he said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. The Vatican data showed that Christians as a whole, including Orthodox and Protestant groups as well as Catholics, made up 33% of the world's population. Applying the percentages to the 2006 world population of about 6.5 billion, Muslims would have made up 1.25 billion of the total, Catholics 1.13 billion and all Christians 2.15 billion. The numbers were published as a dialogue begins between Muslims and the Vatican to try to patch up a series of differences, starting in 2006 when Pope Benedict gave a speech in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor claiming that Islam was inherently violent. The Pope again ruffled feathers at Easter by publicly baptising into the Catholic church a formerly Muslim journalist who had described Islam as characterised by intolerance. The Vatican later distanced itself from the journalist's views. Formenti said the information on Muslim numbers had been released by the United Nations, while the Vatican's data on Catholics was based on questionnaires sent out to dioceses worldwide. "Latin America remains the stronghold for Catholicism, while the American continent as a whole has 49.8% of the world's total," he said. Formenti said that the number of Catholic priests was on the rebound, particularly in Asia, "where there are few Catholics, but they are driven by great spirit". He described Africa as a "grand resource" for the church, while Europe and North America were struggling. The number of nuns was undergoing a "drastic reduction". As for the enrolment of seminarians, Guadalajara in Mexico had the largest number, with two seminaries "packed full". France, the Netherlands and Belgium were bottom of the league, while Italy was seeing a "small, very small reprise".