VANCOUVER, B.C., Dec. 28 (RNS) -- A river of immigrants from Asia iskeeping Canada's three largest cities from turning into enclaves ofsecularism.

A major Statistics Canada survey released in mid-December revealsthat strongly religious immigrants from Asia have swept into Vancouver,Montreal and Toronto, where they've been eagerly attending Buddhist,Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian institutions.

About 50 percent of the Asian immigrants who came to Canada duringthe 1990s regularly attend religious services, according to the surveyby the federal government's official statistics agency.

That compares to only 20 percent of recent European immigrants toCanada, and 31 percent of Canadian-born adults.

And while the number of Canadians regularly worshipping at religiousinstitutions has dropped in the country's smaller centers since 1988,the rate has stayed stable at about 32 percent in Toronto, Montreal andVancouver, mainly because those cities attract the largestconcentrations of Asian immigrants.

"Immigrants remain faithful to their religion, and even increasetheir devotion, because it eases their transition to Canada, offers themcomfort and provides a support group," Statistics Canada researcherGeorge Mori said in an interview from Ottawa after his office releasedthe survey of 10,700 Canadians.

Noting that Canada's large cities are among the most multiculturalin the world, Mori said immigrants, most of them Asian, make up 42percent of Toronto's population, 35 percent of Greater Vancouver'scitizens and 18 percent of Montrealers

. Asian immigrants, whether they're from Korea or India, typicallyremain loyal to the religion of their parents, said Vancouver Buddhistmonk Seng You of Gold Buddha Monastery.

"The Asian system is very filial. If your parents are Buddhist, youare Buddhist. Where I come from, Vietnam, almost every parent isBuddhist," Seng You added.

Seng You, who credits her prayers to Buddha with ensuring her escapefrom Vietnam in a leaky boat 22 years ago, says her temple is frequentedby Vietnamese, Malaysians, Chinese and Filipinos, as well asAnglo-Canadians.

In addition to dozens of Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu templescropping up in Greater Vancouver in past decades to serve Asianimmigrants, the city telephone directory reveals that there are alsoscores of Asian-based Christian churches.

"When immigrants come to a new place, they want to find a spiritualhome and a place to meet people," said Grace Liu, a staff member at NewLife Chinese Lutheran Church in Vancouver.

"Most of the Chinese people who come to our church are Christian.But some don't believe in any religion. Still, they come for help infinding a job or a community or whatever," said Liu. "They come seekingsecurity when they're feeling lonely and don't have many relatives.They'll come even if they're not Christian -- because they've learnedthat Christians are good people," she added with a laugh.

The large Statistics Canada study, which compared the nation'sreligious habits between 1988 and 1998, noted that regular religiousattendance has been consistently cited as an important factor in makingpeople feel a sense of community and family, as well as improving theirhealth.

Recognizing that the world's major urban centers usually exhibitlower religiosity than rural areas and small towns, the StatisticsCanada study considered it highly significant that Vancouver, Torontoand Montreal saw the smallest declines in attendance in the 1990s.

While Canada's three largest cities saw regular religious attendanceslip by 1 percent or 2 percent, attendance across the country as a wholefell by 9 percent, to 34 percent from 43 percent.

The biggest drops were in Alberta and Quebec, where only 29 percentof adults now regularly go to a church, synagogue or temple. Theattendance rate in British Columbia, which has been historically thelowest, remained at 27 percent.

The study, called the General Social Survey, also showed thatmarried couples with children, as well as seniors citizens, are the mostlikely Canadians to be regular worshippers.

Attendance was lowest among divorced people, couples living incommon-law relationships and people between the ages of 15 and 24.