One church, many faces

  • January 15, 2010
{mosimage}Congratulations to Canada’s two new auxiliary bishops, Bishops William McGrattan, 53, and Vincent Nguyen, 43. Their recent ordinations and calls to serve the archdiocese of Toronto provide an injection of new ideas and fresh energy that can only benefit a Catholic community undergoing rapid growth both in sheer numbers and in challenges associated with the region’s ever-widening cultural mosaic.

Their backgrounds are strikingly different. McGrattan, the oldest of two children, was born and raised in the comfort of London, Ont.; Nguyen, one of nine children, was born near Saigon during the Vietnam War and fled to Canada with other “boat people” refugees in 1983. But they carry the same reputation of being skilled at listening, understanding and caring, essential qualities as they become vicars of an archdiocese in transition.

Canada is among the world’s most ethnically diverse nations and the Greater Toronto Area is the most diverse region in Canada. According to StatsCan figures, one million immigrants arrived in Canada between 2001 and 2006, and 6.2-million foreign-born people live here. They represent 200 different ethnic origins and almost 20 per cent of the total population. By comparison, just 13 per cent of Americans are foreign-born.

By and large, new immigrants choose to live in our large cities, with 69 per cent of recent immigrants settling in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Half the population of Greater Toronto was born abroad and the city has more than two-million visible minority residents. And the number is growing. Canada accepts more than 200,000 immigrants annually and about 75,000 of them settle within the archdiocese of Toronto. Of those 75,000, the majority come from Asia and the Middle East and it is estimated that about 15,000 are Roman Catholic. These immigrants, as well as more than 1,000 converts each year, are being added annually to a Catholic population that has swelled to 1.9 million in the archdiocese.

Immigration has always fuelled the growth of the archdiocese but the newest Catholics are arriving from a more diverse range of countries. The archdiocese celebrates Mass every week for 36 ethnic and linguistic communities, in languages as varied as Italian and German, Arabic and Cantonese, Tamil and Vietnamese. Over the past 20 years two-thirds of priests ordained from St. Augustine’s Seminary were born outside Canada.

What all this means is that these new, largely non-white Canadians were overdue to be given a voice in the upper echelons of church hierarchy. They could always depend on receiving a sympathetic ear but that is less profound than being represented by someone, within the archdiocese and within the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, who intimately understood their concerns, frustrations, hopes and dreams.

Nguyen, the first non-white bishop in Canada, instantly becomes that important link. But it’s interesting that McGrattan was named Toronto’s new vicar for ethnic communities. If there is a message in that, it might be to remember that we’re all in this together. The church is a kaleidoscope of many races, colours and languages. But it’s one church.

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