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Immigrants seek out religious communities in Canada, survey finds

By Mike Morash | Shutterstock

Foreign-born Canadians believe religion is important factor in society

Houses of worship are sanctuaries in more than one sense. The sanctuary is a place set apart from the world for the worship of God and for religious sacrifice. Because it is a holy place, there has long been a common understanding that it is a place where those pursued by law enforcement may take at least temporary refuge.

A new study in Canada shows that immigrants tend to regard their houses of worship as not only a sanctuary but a place to get settled into their new lives.

When you think about it, it makes sense: people who leave their homelands and set out for the unknown would naturally look for people and places they trust and that would help give them a sense of continuity in their new environs. The Angus Reid Institute and Cardus, a faith-based think tank based in Ottawa, suggest that immigrants often seek and find help, both temporal and spiritual, from Canadian religious communities.

In fact, almost half of Canadians who were born outside of Canada (49 percent) say they received material support from faith-based communities in Canada, including help finding a job or learning a language. More than six-in-ten (63 percent) say they relied on these groups to form a community and network after they arrived in the country.

In addition, immigrants are twice as likely as third-generation Canadians (those whose connection to Canada began with their grandparents or further back) to say that religion should have a significant influence on public life in Canada (20 percent to 10 percent).

“Newcomers are able to gain support and community immediately in many cases through a network of religious groups,” especially in areas of large Canadian cities where immigrants from the same country tend to congregate, the survey says:

Asked what role these types of communities played in their settling into Canadian life, half of immigrants say they were given material assistance—for example, help getting a job, finding a place to live, or language training. An even greater number among this first-generation group say they were offered a community and social network, as well as spiritual comfort when they arrived and connected with their religious community.

Of the immigrants questioned, 37 percent identified themselves as Roman Catholic.

“If you do a breakdown of immigrants to Canada by religion, the Catholic Church has benefitted the most from immigration,” David Seljak, sociologist of religion at St. Jerome’s College, University of Waterloo, told the Catholic Register. “While Protestant denominations have declined, the Roman Catholic Church has grown slightly or maintained its own in the census, largely because of immigration.”

Strong percentages of immigrants said they felt it was important for their children to be baptized or otherwise formally welcomed into their faith (60 percent); is educated about faith and/or religion (69 percent); grows up believing in God or a higher power (65 percent), and grows up holding similar spiritual beliefs to their own (66 percent).


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