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Surveys point to bigger role of faith in crisis

By  Bryan Dryden and Michael Swan, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 18, 2020

Canadians of faith are turning towards God more often to help them get through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Angus Reid survey.

“With the COVID-19 outbreak threatening the health and financial wellbeing of residents from coast to coast, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Canadians have turned to a higher power a little more often than they normally would,” according to a survey released just before Easter by the Angus Reid Institute.

“In times of crisis, frustration and trial, many Canadians turn to faith for comfort or support,” said the survey, which was done in conjunction with the religious think tank Cardus.

The survey indicated that 22 per cent of Canadians are turning to prayer more often for spiritual and emotional sustenance during these trying times.

The findings dovetail with another survey, done by Calgary market research company Anstice Communications, that suggested Canadians wanted to get “back to basics” by concentrating more on family, taking less for granted, giving more to charity, appreciating the environment, living more simply and practising religion.

“It was interesting for me to see that 27 per cent agreed, or strongly agreed, that they have a renewed sense of religious faith (because of the COVID-19 crisis),” said Mark Szabo, Anstice’s director of insights and engagement.

Although about 37 per cent among the 800 respondents rejected the idea of deeper engagement with religion, Szabo was struck by the number of people, many in the 16- to 25-year-old category, who were thinking more about religion.

St. Jerome’s University sociology professor David Seljak is a little less surprised that the young are now open to formal religion. Twenty years ago, Seljak’s classes were full of students leaving the Church.

“They were angry at the Church and they were leaving the Church,” recalled Seljak. “These people (Generation Z) have never been to church. They don’t have that negative baggage.”

Anstice also found 38 per cent of Canadians either strongly agree or agree they are feeling more altruistic toward strangers in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

Asked how they thought their lives might be different after the COVID-19 crisis, 15 per cent of survey respondents said they wanted to simplify life; 14 per cent said they wanted to save more money; 13 per cent wanted to spend more time with family and friends; and five per cent wanted to give more to charity and focus more on helping others. A total of 55 per cent indicated they would make significant changes in their lives, versus 32 per cent who said they would make no change.

The Angus Reid survey revealed that “among Canadians who pray (59 per cent of the population overall), more than one-in-five say they are turning to prayer more since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country.”

“Whether they’re praying more, or the same amount, those who have a deep religious faith are near unanimous in saying that this discipline has helped them overcome COVID-19 driven fear and anxiety,” the survey said.

The survey also found that almost 20 per cent of Canadians say that they or members of their families have been helped by their religious communities during these unprecedented times

The fact that Canadians are turning to their faith for support is not surprising to the executive vice-president of Cardus.

“Throughout history, faith groups have been among the first to mobilize to assist in a time of crisis,” said Cardus’ Ray Pennings. “During a pandemic, there are numerous opportunities to fulfill their mandate for love of neighbour.”

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