Why Catholicism Remains Strong in Canada

Edmonton, Alberta – The centerpiece of Pope Francis’ visit to Canada this week was his historic message on Monday apologizing to the country’s indigenous people for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the infamous residential school system. Which tried to erase their culture, and in which thousands of children were abused and died.

But as Francis continued his journey across the country—from Alberta, where he granted amnesty, to Quebec and Nunavut in the Arctic—his stops also told the story of the church’s unusually stable position in Canada.

Large numbers of immigrants from South Sudan, India, the Philippines, South Korea and elsewhere were prominent in the crowd at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta on Tuesday, just as they are at the country’s Catholic churches, a product of Canada’s liberal immigration policy. , which embraces immigrants and formally promotes multiculturalism.

While the Roman Catholic Church is in serious decline in many Western countries, it remains the largest denomination in predominantly Christian Canada, accounting for about 38 percent of people who identify with a particular faith. And outside Quebec, a French-speaking province once dominated by it, the church’s decline has been modest. In 1951, 41 percent of Canadians said they were Catholic.

The reason for the Church’s stability, most analysts agree, is Canada’s relatively open immigration policies, which means that immigrants make up a greater proportion of Canada’s population than they do in the United States and other Western countries where Catholicism is a religion. is decreasing.

A study by the Census Agency of Canada A release late last year found that Catholicism represented the largest faith among newcomers to the country. More important, the survey also determined that the majority of those immigrants are active church participants.

“Immigrants now make up a large proportion of the most faithful participants in Sunday Mass,” said Gordon Davis, a former priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto for 20 years who taught at the Toronto School of Theology and dean of Canada’s largest seminary. Were. St. Augustine. “The question is whether or not the next generation will remain as active in their faith.”

Mr Davies and others say that the immigrants who support the Catholic Church in much of Canada does not mean the church is not vulnerable to the declines that have undermined the country’s long-established Protestant churches. .

“There is usually some sort of disenchantment with churches,” said Dr. Michelle Andros, dean of the Faculty of Theology at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.

But Canadian immigrants have strengthened the church and given it vitality, Mr Davis said, something he has seen firsthand in his Toronto church. Today they estimate that about 40 percent of their fellow parishioners are from the Philippines and a large number of others are Tamils ​​from Sri Lanka.

“It’s like going to Manila every weekend,” he said. “It’s a cultural experience that’s actually very healthy for me.”

Dr. Andros himself is a Catholic immigrant to Canada, his family fleeing the civil war in Lebanon during the 1990s.

For many immigrants, he said, churches are as much a settlement service and cultural community as they are a spiritual center. And once they have established themselves in Canada, he said, they often move away from the church.

Dr. Andros said, “My entire family is immigrants and all of them are very active churchgoers in their first 10 years.” “No one in my family goes to church anymore.”

Whatever the future, Dr. Andros said the arrival of Catholic immigrants has had a profound effect on the church, in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec, where Pope Francis arrived on Wednesday.

For much of its history, the Roman Catholic Church dominated not only the spiritual life of the province but also education and health care, and had a significant influence on business and politics. But in what came to be known as the Quiet Revolution, a liberal government was formed in 1960 and those powers began to take back Starting with schools. Secularism became a guiding principle.

Its influence continues today and includes a recently passed law that bans the wearing of religious symbols, including Christian ones, by public sector employees, including teachers. Over the decades churches and church institutions have been closed and converted to other uses.

Secularism has replaced Catholicism in Quebec more than in any other province, and Dr. Andros said the Catholic Church is now almost extinct in rural parts of the province. Nevertheless, Quebec has also seen a resurgence in Montreal with large, vibrant congregations, often made up of immigrants from Africa.

When he meets with parishioners in those churches, he said, he finds that there is sometimes a disconnect between him and long-established members of the church in Canada.

This is especially true of the issue that brought Francis to Canada: reconciliation with indigenous peoples for the damages done to church-run residential schools. After largely failing a class action settlement with alumni, the church is now attempting to raise 30 million Canadian dollars from its members.

“They have no clue why they should be contributing,” Dr. Andros said recently, referring to Catholic immigrants. “What have they done?”

But they have found that once the suffering of the students is settled, most of them understand the obligation.

Similarly, Mr. Davis said he found members of many immigrant congregations to be more conservative than many Canadian-born church members.

“They have nothing to do with the Canadian Catholic Church’s hustle and bustle to accept same-sex marriage and bring women in,” he said. “It is not part of their spirit of Catholicism and they will die against it.”

Immigration has also fulfilled another need of the church in Canada. Dr. Andros said few, if any, Canadians were willing to become priests and that the situation is unlikely to change until priests are allowed to marry. Not a single one of his university’s 110 religious students currently intends to become a priest.

That’s why most Canadian priests now come from abroad. Father Susai Jesu, who hosted the Pope in his indigenous parish in Edmonton this week, was born in India.

Vibrant, immigrant-based congregations have so far allowed some archdioceses, including Toronto, not to close churches, although Mr Davis said closures are needed to strengthen financial and clerical resources, which are limited because many Immigrants lack the funds needed to maintain large Canadians. Church.

One place where the church is currently largely settling churches and other buildings is Newfoundland and Labrador. After a court ruled that approximately 100 people who sexually abused an orphanage between 1940 and 1960 were compensated, the archdiocese there filed for bankruptcy.

The encouragement provided by immigrants, Mr Davis said, helped prevent the church from disappearing. But that won’t, in the long run, keep it from shrinking to a more durable version of itself.

“It can’t happen in my lifetime,” he said. “But I can see the beginning of that restructuring and that healthy redevelopment in my lifetime.”

Outside the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Tuesday, a sea of ​​​​variety faces appeared as the crowd dispersed. Within the crush of people looking for buses or standing in line for trains was Israel Izo Odongi, who moved from South Sudan to Canada 23 years ago and who, along with other members of the South Sudanese congregation, went to Calgary to see the Pope. Traveled from Alberta.

Nearby was Jesu Bala, who had moved from Chennai, India, to Edmonton, Alberta 13 years earlier. Mr Bala, who was accompanied by four family members, said they were part of a South Asian congregation.

Even when the Pope made his way to Lac Stay. Anne, Alberta, a pilgrimage site founded in the 19th century for indigenous Catholics, about an hour north of Edmonton, was home to a large number of immigrants.

Reina Donair, 36, of Edmonton stood on the shores of Lake Donair, minutes from where Francis blessed the water with four other friends from the Philippines.

“Most church-goers are Filipinos,” she said, adding that she and other immigrants, including from Africa, provided a lift to the Canadian church. “We are strong Catholics and that’s probably how we help them.”

Jason Horowitz Contributed reporting from Lakh Ste. Anne, Alberta.

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