The Vatican estimates there are now a billion Roman Catholics in the world, a figure in an annual statistical report due out soon.

Enrico Nenna of the Vatican's Central Statistics Office said the figure was arrived at by adding nearly 5 million Catholics in China and North Korea to 995.128 million elsewhere in the world in 1996, the church's most recent survey.The church has no representation in either of those countries.

Nenna said the Vatican calculates such estimates by using the percentage of Catholics in each diocese as supplied by bishops and overall population figures compiled by the United Nations.

Those estimates are based on projections from the number of Catholics before the communists came to power.

In 1995, the church estimated 989 million Catholics worldwide, excluding China and North Korea.