SASKATOON — Religion in Canada is a growth industry and Catholics are leading the way, according to noted University of Lethbridge sociologist Dr. Reginald Bibby. Bibby and Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller were the two presenters at the Saskatchewan Catholic School Board Association’s first ever Catholic Education Symposium held April 24-25.
Among his many roles since ordination Miller has served as president of the University of St. Thomas, Houston and as secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education.
Bibby backed his assertions with statistics from his own research as well as information from Statistics Canada. Miller devoted his talks to the importance of Catholic schools and educators in faith development, promoting a Gospel life and teachings of the church. Each spoke the evening of the 24th and the morning of the 25th.
Bibby acknowledged that church attendance has decreased, especially among teens, but it has now stabilized, largely due to Catholic immigrants.
“Academics and religious leaders are wrong,” said Bibby in predicting the demise of religion. “There are significant numbers of people who continue to value faith.”
His statistics showed that 12,800,000 people in Canada identified themselves as Catholics in 2011. “The future of religion in Canada is very great. Gradually there is a comeback, with Christianity and Islam the fastest growing religions.”
Worldwide, he said, Christianity is growing and even in China Christians are expected to make up 15 per cent of the population by 2050. Christianity is on the biggest role in its history, said Bibby. “Thanks to your school system you are at an advantage.”
Miller frequently quoted Pope Francis as he spoke of the role of Catholic schools in the new evangelization.
“Francis’ revolution is setting a new course,” said Miller and it includes families, parishes, and schools to be missionaries and engaged in evangelization, not just self preservation. Teachers are trained in secular institutions, he said, and should be provided professional development “to train teachers to integrate faith in the curriculum.”
Teachers must be seen to be living the faith, said Miller. “Teens can easily see hypocrisy.”
He listed what he said should be five characteristics of Catholic schools: they must be grounded in biblical understanding; have a Catholic worldview; faith must be throughout the curriculum; it must be a witness to the Gospel; and it must have a spirituality of community. He explained the meaning of each of those characteristics, how they can be realized, and reminded his audience that school governance is a ministry.
The main purpose of Catholic schools, said the archbishop, “is to prepare young people for heaven.”
Following each presentation members were asked to discuss the topics and issues at their individual tables. Views expressed were written and collected and will be used to create a report to be distributed to all Saskatchewan Catholic school boards.