While Catholic congregations are shrinking across Canada, the number of Catholics in Toronto is on the rise due to the number of immigrants that settle in the city. Photo by Michael Swan

Immigration fuels growth in Toronto's Catholic Church

By 
  • May 11, 2013

TORONTO - Immigration hasn't just transformed the Catholic Church in Toronto, it's made the archdiocese of Toronto massively different from Catholic Canada outside the Greater Toronto Area.

Two out of every five Catholics in Toronto were born outside the country, compared to just one in 10 Catholics who are immigrants in the rest of Canada. The newest numbers on religious affiliation and immigration were released by Statistics Canada May 8. They were gathered from the 2011 National Household Survey.

With 721,065 immigrant Catholics, the GTA has 247,185 more than Vancouver and Montreal combined. Between them, Canada's second and third largest cities have 24.6 per cent of Canada's Catholic immigrants, compared to Toronto's 37.6-per-cent share.

It's the sheer size of immigrant waves crashing on Toronto's shores that makes it different.

The nearly three-quarters of a million foreign-born Catholics concentrated in Toronto compare to 1.2 million spread across the rest of Canada. Toronto's share of Catholic immigration runs parallel to Toronto's role as home to 37.4 per cent of all immigrants in Canada.

The number one way immigration makes Toronto different is how it has contributed to growth of the Church compared to shrinking numbers elsewhere, said archdiocese spokesman Bill Steinburg.

"This is confirming what we've already seen on the ground," Steinburg said. "It's not news to us."

Filipinos are currently the top group filling pews and putting pressure on the archdiocese to add more parishes, said Steinburg.

The numbers would seem to bolster Toronto's image as the most multicultural archdiocese in the world. Though New York City is more than 35 per cent immigrant and very diverse, Catholic New York tends to break down into established English-speaking parishes and immigrant Hispanic parishes. In Toronto Mass offered in 36 languages every Sunday and it's hard to say there is any dominant immigrant group.

Catholics make up 28.5 per cent of Canada's immigrants overall. But the Catholic slice of the immigration pie has narrowed over the years. Among those who came to Canada before 1971, 41.3 per cent are Catholic. In the decade from 2001 to 2011 just 22.5 per cent of new arrivals were Catholic.

Quebec remains Canada's most Catholic province with 74.7 per cent of Quebeckers calling themselves Catholic. Quebec's 5.8 million Catholics are 45.1 per cent of Canada's Catholic population.

The rest of Canada without Quebec is 28 per cent Catholic, with just over seven million claiming Catholic affiliation. The most Catholic province outside Quebec is New Brunswick — 49.8 per cent Catholic.

All in, Canada is 38.7 per cent Catholic, compared to 23.9 per cent of Americans.

Ontario's 12,651,790 people are 31.4 per cent Catholic. With nearly four million Catholics, Ontario has 4.5 times as many Catholics as Alberta — the number two English-speaking province in terms of Catholic population.

A shift to Asian immigration is sometimes held up to explain Canada's rapid rise in people who claim no religious affiliation. The 2011 NHS found nearly a quarter of Canadians — 23.9 per cent — had no religious affiliation, up from 16.5 per cent in the 2001 Census and 12 per cent in 1991. For many Chinese and other Asians, the religious categories we use in Canada don't correspond to their experience, said Suzanne Scorsone, archdiocese of Toronto director of research.

"They aren't saying they are atheist. They are saying, 'These categories don't mean anything to me,' ” Scorsone said.

However, the picture in Toronto is again very different from the rest of Canada when it comes to the religiously unaffiliated. In Canada as a whole, 81.4 per cent of the unaffiliated were born in Canada. In Toronto that number is just 60 per cent.

Catholics are the only faith group larger than the unaffiliated in Canada, a group sociologists of religion refer to as the "nones."

The largest Protestant Church in Canada remains the United Church with more than two million adherents, or 6.1 per cent of Canadians.

The 550,690 Orthodox in Canada represent 1.7 per cent of the population.

The largest non-Christian religion is Islam. There are more than one million Muslims in Canada, 40.3 per cent of them in the GTA.

Canada has 497,960 Hindus and 454,965 Sikhs. The most Toronto-centric faith in Canada is Hinduism, with 65.4 per cent of Canada's Hindus living there.

Canada has 329,500 Jew, just over half of them living in Toronto.

The NHS counted more than 1,000 Satanists in Canada, almost all of them Canadian born.

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