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The Changing Face of the Church in Canada

The pews in the churches of Montreal are going to be increasingly populated by newcomers to Canada. That was one of the conclusions of Reginald Bibby’s fascinating lecture given last November at Loyola High School.  In a lively and engaging style Bibby, the most well-known sociologist of religion in Canada, began by giving a short synopsis of the history of Catholics in Canada and then proceeded to paint a picture of the future.  That future has everything to do with immigration.  Why is this?  One part of the answer has to do with how Canada is growing.  In 2016, population growth in Canada was 30% natural increase and 70% immigration.  By 2036, 100% of population growth will be down to immigration. The second part of the equation has to do with a difference in religious commitment between those born in Canada and those born outside of Canada.  On average, immigrants tend to be more religiously committed than the population that was born in Canada. 

Basing his lecture off his most recent books, Canada’s Catholics (2016) and Resilient Gods (2017), Bibby noted that historically Catholics have had an ability to create communities for immigrant populations.  “The dominant policy seems to have been to allow Catholics to establish new parishes where they could initially live out life in the language and culture of their homeland.  Churches thereby retained Catholics in the course of providing them with communities that offered immigrants social, emotional and spiritual support in their new country.” –p.122, Canada’s Catholics.

The Catholic Church in Canada has, on the whole, done a great job in creating healthy and nurturing environments for newcomers to adapt and integrate to their new homeland.  Looking forward, churches will need to keep a number of questions in mind.  Here are five questions which Bibby suggests leaders need to ask:

  1. How can the Church help newcomers adjust to Canada?
  2. How can parishes provide welcoming environments?
  3. To what extent will new parishes be created?
  4. What can be done to ensure that the high levels of commitment and involvement that are characteristic of many immigrants continue?
  5. What can be done by way of superb family ministry to ensure that enthusiasm for the faith continues to characterize the second generation of newcomers?

Important questions, for sure!

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English Speaking Catholic Council
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