~from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Metro Atlanta's Roman Catholic churches are keeping their pulpits filled better than many regions of the country.
Across the nation there is a shortage of priests, but the Archdiocese of Atlanta's 95 churches and missions have 262 priests and more than 50 seminarians in training.
"We have one of the strongest vocational programs in the country," said Father Luke Ballman, the director of vocations.
About 600 Serrans, lay Catholics dedicated to supporting and educating those choosing church vocations, are in Atlanta this weekend for a national conference.
Serra clubs across the country raise money for scholarships, organize prayer chains and support for priests.
While the U.S. population of Catholics swelled from 45.6 million in 1965 to 60 million in 2006, the number of priests dropped from 58,632 to 41,794. Some U.S. churches have no priests.
Seminarians dropped from 8,325 to 3,306 during that time.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta, which covers north Georgia, will need as many pastors as it can churn out. Catholic adherents here more than doubled in the last ten years, growing from 256,000 to an estimated 600,000.
Pat Chivers, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese said the surge came from Catholics moving to the region from around the U.S. and the world and from evangelism.
"Our churches are bursting at the seams," she said.
The influx of Latino immigrants, traditionally Catholics, has affected Georgia.
St. Thomas the Apostle church in Smyrna holds nine masses each weekend, five in English and four in Spanish, Chivers said.
Other churches hold masses in foreign languages such as Vietnamese.
Ballman said the influx of Catholics has helped bring many young men who are interested in becoming priests, and the archdiocese has traditionally had a strong emphasis on religious vocations.
"But we can always use more," he said.