Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 2, 2005
God is at work in the churches
Sociologist/author Reginald Bibby affirms Catholicism's ongoing popularity
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
If someone suggests that Catholicism is less popular than other faiths, a noted University of Lethbridge sociologist suggests telling them they are mistaken.
Dr. Reginald Bibby has studied more than 100 years of religion's life, fall and rebirth in Canada and one trend has remained constant. The percentage of Roman Catholics among established religions in Canada since 1871 has not been surpassed.
We are the majority
"Know that you constitute the majority," Bibby told some 300 Catholic Women's League convention delegates April 22 at Holy Trinity Church in Spruce Grove.
"Despite seemingly apparent secularization and so-called new age movements, the projected bleakness is just not true."
For three decades Bibby, a Baptist, has been gathering data on religion and youth in Canada by monitoring social trends through surveys of adults and teens. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada, which focuses on religion's role in a secular society.
His talk was titled Restless Gods and Restless Churches: The Great Opportunity Facing Catholics. He said there are some 13 million Catholics in Canada.
Edmonton, in particular, enjoys a healthy proportion of young Catholics.
And the numbers can get even higher, if "Catholics came out of the wilderness."
"Fifty per cent of Roman Catholics in the Edmonton Archdiocese are under 35 years of age," said Bibby, who is married to a Roman Catholic.
The inverse is that there is one priest for every 1,600 Catholics. Bibby said lay involvement is essential, calling it "a challenge to contribute to an emerging religious renaissance."
"There is a tremendous opportunity for Roman Catholics in Canada," Bibby said.
"We have experienced 50 years of ups and downs, seeing a rise in Church popularity in the 1940s and '50s, a fall from the '60s to the 1990s to 2000, but there is a resurgence in weekly Church attendance. Religion is making a comeback."
Bibby admitted that in the early 1990s, he was ready to move out of the area of sociology of religion because for a number of years, the story remained unchanged. Organized religion was in trouble due to a continued downward pattern in Church involvement.
Bibby described himself as an upbeat person constantly dealing with something that he thought was essentially dying.
He said his personal faith remained strong, but he had begun to find his work "not terribly uplifting."
The emergence of evangelical movements about 15 years ago seemed appealing only because established religion was looking so bad, he said. There were modest gains in the smaller groups because people were playing "religious musical chairs."
Bibby determined that relatively few "defunct Catholics" actually switched. He said we are used to and comfortable with certain religious cultures. People did not begin waking up Sunday mornings asking themselves which Church was on the menu for the day.
After 30 years of work, Bibby said what he has found is that people continue to identify with their religious traditions. A man might not have been going to church, but his parents did. Chances are he has returned to church and is bringing his wife and children with him.
"Religion is making a comeback."
- Dr. Reginald Bibby
A steady 43 per cent
From 1871 to 2001, Bibby found that Roman Catholics in Canada remained steady at 43 per cent of the population.
"God is at work in the culture and God is at work in the churches," he said.
And to attract more youth, Bibby suggested that churches show them that it is worthwhile for them to attend.
"People who find that the Church can touch their lives in significant ways, will want more to do with the Church. Encourage them to come by ministering well to their spiritual needs.
"As you find significance, walk with it and share in the ministry to other people," he said.
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