The face of the Catholic Church in Canada has changed, and will continue to change, because of immigration. It is the most recent immigrants rather than traditional cultures like the French and Irish that will be filling the pews in the future. Photo by Michael Swan

Comment: Immigrants vital to growth of the Church in Canada

By 
  • September 21, 2017

A celebration planned by the Canadian Goan Christian Group for St. Joseph’s parish in Mississauga on Oct. 14 will highlight the role that immigrants play in keeping the Church in Canada alive and vibrant.

The demographic dynamics of the global Catholic Church are evident in Canada. The faith is weak in the countries of old Europe — France and Ireland to highlight two — that were the foundation of the Church in Canada. Likewise, the practice of the faith is weak in those French and Irish parts of the Catholic population which have been in Canada for generations.

In the global south, the picture is different. The Church is growing and vibrant in many parts of Asia, particularly India, Korea and the Philippines. There has been explosive growth of the Church in Africa. That too is reflected in the Church in Canada. Without priests from Africa, India and the Philippines, there would be thousands of parish communities that would be without the sacraments regularly. Many of the most vibrant parishes depend in large part on immigrants for their vital leadership. Without immigrants and the sons of immigrants, priestly vocations in Canada would be drastically reduced.

A few years back I assisted at the Holy Mass celebrating the 75th priestly anniversary of Msgr. Vincent Foy. Msgr. Foy. Cardinal Thomas Collins, who was the celebrant, represented that proud European heritage of the Church in Canada. The seminarians serving the Mass, and several of the other priests present, were from south Asia. The ministers of that Mass reflected both the heritage and the future of the Church in Canada.

The future of Canada will be slightly more religious than it is now due to immigration. While the European heritage of Canada is growing more secular, the greater religious practice among immigrants will have more than a compensating impact, demographically speaking, in the current generation. At the Canada 150 celebrations earlier this year, politicians prattling on endlessly about diversity almost always neglected to note that this diversity means that Canada is becoming more religious, not less so.

When reference is made to the religious practice of immigrants, it is usually to make the point of a greater emerging religious diversity in Canada. That is true, but it is often forgotten that many immigrants are Christians. That is more than evident to anyone who has been in a parish church in Vancouver or Toronto.

The impact of religious immigrants is not limited to their houses of worship. Given what we know about the contribution religious believers make to the common good — they volunteer more, donate more to charities, participate more actively in various social engagements — the civic contribution of religious immigrants should not be overlooked.

For some immigrants, Canada has permitted greater practical religious liberty than they had previously. That’s not true for all, of course, but there are immigrants who come to Canada because their practice of the faith is restricted — or even dangerous — in their countries of origin.

The immigrant experience will be celebrated Oct. 14 at St. Joseph’s Church. St. Joseph’s is the de facto headquarters of the Canadian Goan Christian Group, an association of Catholic immigrants from Goa and other parts of India. Goa is the former Portuguese colony on the Indian subcontinent, evangelized by St. Francis Xavier and now part of India.

The CGCG started up a few years ago and has been impressive in its early activities, ranging from symposia on public policy to supporting Catholic youth in their faith formation. The group caught my eye because my own grandparents emigrated from Goa to East Africa, where my parents were born. In turn, my parents immigrated to Canada, where I was born.

The CGCG is staging “Celebrate! Our Catholic Faith in Canada 150” to draw attention to the contribution Goan and Indian immigrants have made to the Church in Canada and to the broader Canadian society. As part of that group, I take a favourable view of the contribution families like mine have made to our new country, as you would expect.

It’s a story though that touches families, parishes and dioceses across the country. Canada has been a very good home for immigrants, including those from Goa. And in turn, Goan immigrants have been very good for Canada. All worth celebrating in Canada 150.

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-inchief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the archdiocese of Kingston.)

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