When people talk about the state of the Catholic Church today, the first number that comes to mind is weekly Mass attendance. And, yes, it is hovering around the high teens for Canada. However, that number is rather lacking in what it says about the reality of modern Catholics.
A new publication from Novalis called Canada’s Catholics: Vitality and Hope in a New Era (I’m sorry, I know this is blatant self-promotion but there are some interesting numbers here that you will certainly find useful) shed a more optimistic light on the issue. In a 2015 survey of Catholics, pollster Angus Reid and sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby found religious belief and practice goes well beyond Sunday worship.
For instance, did you know that 75 per cent of Catholics in Canada believe in miracles? Or that 41 per cent pray privately at least once a week? Some 54 per cent say they have personally experienced God’s presence. And 68 per cent believe in guardian angels.
Of course, Pope Francis has a huge fan base here in Canada, even among non-practicing Catholics. A whopping 90 per cent of active Catholics have an overall positive impression of the pope, citing his emphasis on solidarity with the poor and his embrace of a simple life. Among non-practicing Catholics, 66 per cent have an overall positive impression. Francis has moved at least 14 per cent of this latter group to rethink their relationship to the Church — in a good way.
While exploring Statistics Canada numbers on the same topic, Reid and Bibby also found some interesting insights into the fate of parish life. When active Catholics were asked about how their parishes were doing, 50 per cent said attendance and parish activity was stable. Another 25 per cent said their parish was growing. And 25 per cent said their parish was declining.
In Quebec, the situation varied somewhat. Only 10 per cent said the parish was growing, while 34 per cent said it was declining and 56 per cent said the situation was stable.
Unsurprisingly, the numbers support what everybody has observed. Increasingly, the Canadian Catholic Church is a global church. “Nationally, on a given weekend, the pews in Catholic parishes are being occupied by 2 in 3 people from Canada, and 1 in 3 from other countries. In Ontario cities, says Statscan, that ratio is almost exactly 50-50.”
Granted, the church has its challenges. But the numbers don’t lie: there is considerably more life in the Church than you would think given the media coverage.