A major Statistics Canada survey released in mid-December reveals that 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 during the 1990s regularly attend religious services, according to the survey by the federal government's official statistics agency.
That compares to only 20 percent of recent European immigrants to Canada, and 31 percent of Canadian-born adults.
And while the number of Canadians regularly worshipping at religious institutions has dropped in the country's smaller centers since 1988, the rate has stayed stable at about 32 percent in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, mainly because those cities attract the largest concentrations of Asian immigrants.
"Immigrants remain faithful to their religion, and even increase their devotion, because it eases their transition to Canada, offers them comfort and provides a support group," Statistics Canada researcher George Mori said in an interview from Ottawa after his office released the survey of 10,700 Canadians.
Noting that Canada's large cities are among the most multicultural in the world, Mori said immigrants, most of them Asian, make up 42 percent of Toronto's population, 35 percent of Greater Vancouver's citizens and 18 percent of Montrealers
. Asian immigrants, whether they're from Korea or India, typically remain loyal to the religion of their parents, said Vancouver Buddhist monk Seng You of Gold Buddha Monastery.
"The Asian system is very filial. If your parents are Buddhist, you are Buddhist. Where I come from, Vietnam, almost every parent is Buddhist," Seng You added.
In addition to dozens of Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu temples cropping up in Greater Vancouver in past decades to serve Asian immigrants, the city telephone directory reveals that there are also scores of Asian-based Christian churches.
"When immigrants come to a new place, they want to find a spiritual home and a place to meet people," said Grace Liu, a staff member at New Life 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 in finding a job or a community or whatever," said Liu. "They come seeking security when they're feeling lonely and don't have many relatives. They'll come even if they're not Christian -- because they've learned that Christians are good people," she added with a laugh.
The large Statistics Canada study, which compared the nation's religious habits between 1988 and 1998, noted that regular religious attendance has been consistently cited as an important factor in making people feel a sense of community and family, as well as improving their health.
Recognizing that the world's major urban centers usually exhibit lower religiosity than rural areas and small towns, the Statistics Canada study considered it highly significant that Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal saw the smallest declines in attendance in the 1990s.
While Canada's three largest cities saw regular religious attendance slip by 1 percent or 2 percent, attendance across the country as a whole fell by 9 percent, to 34 percent from 43 percent.
The biggest drops were in Alberta and Quebec, where only 29 percent of adults now regularly go to a church, synagogue or temple. The attendance rate in British Columbia, which has been historically the lowest, remained at 27 percent.
The study, called the General Social Survey, also showed that married couples with children, as well as seniors citizens, are the most likely Canadians to be regular worshippers.
Attendance was lowest among divorced people, couples living in common-law relationships and people between the ages of 15 and 24.