Many aging churches face declining attendance, but for congregations being infused with new Canadians, thereâs a promise of resurrection and renewal that fits well with the message of Easter.
At Mary Help of Christians, most of the 500 or so parishioners hail from Hong Kong or Taiwan, says Alan Ching, a 52-year-old physiotherapist who chairs the parish pastoral council.
Cantonese is the main language in two of three weekly masses at the old Knights of Columbus building. The early Sunday morning mass is in English.
Approaching its 25th anniversary in May, the number of families at the church is holding steady.
âI canât say that weâre growing. People come and go,â says Ching.
âIn a way, yes, we have new parishioners, we have baptisms, new members, but on the other hand, we have people going away for various reasons.â
According to University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, congregations such as Mary Help of Christians might represent the future of Christianity in Edmonton.
The worldâs fastest-growing religion, Christianity is making vast strides in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In the next 24 hours, there will be 37,000 more Catholics and 30,000 Pentecostals, Bibby says.
There will be just 1,200 more atheists.
Immigrants from the Southern Hemisphere are already altering Canadaâs religious landscape, bypassing the shrinking mainline Protestant churches while infusing Catholic and Pentecostal congregations with devout newcomers.
In Albertaâs Catholic churches, foreign-born worshippers are nearly twice as likely as native-born Catholics â 64 per cent to 39 per cent â to attend mass at least once a month.
Well-spoken, friendly Filipino and African priests helm congregations.
And the number of foreign-born Christians in Canada is likely to grow in the coming decades.
For example, about eight per cent of the people in China now attend religious services, but by 2050 the number of Christians alone in China could rise to 220 million people, or 15 per cent of the population.
âWhen you look at this global data, itâs obvious that a lot of these people are arriving as Catholics,â Bibby says.
âWith the growth of Christianity in China, you would expect those kinds of parishes are going to grow all the more because of immigration.â
More than half of the parishioners at Mary Help of Christians were already Catholic when they arrived, Ching says.
He was a twenty-something âsheet of white paperâ when he came in 1986. Having no religious past, Ching began attending four years later, curious at first, but increasingly comfortable with an accepting congregation and approachable clergy.
This Sunday, his 11-year-old daughter will celebrate her confirmation. Itâs a special end to Lent, the traditional 40-day period of fasting and sacrifice leading up to Easter.
Many Christians forego chocolate or wine. This year, Ching endeavoured to spend less time daydreaming about material things.
âI tried to pray more, because Iâm usually very lazy,â Ching admits. âI think itâs making a difference.â
Good Friday services were uncharacteristically quiet at the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, a small, slightly dilapidated Pentecostal church in Edmonton, where a few dozen members gathered in the early evening to contemplate the meaning of the cross, sing a few hymns, pray and also wash each otherâs feet.
Twenty-two years ago, Terefe Sereke began meeting with four or five friends in his apartment.
They incorporated as a church in 1994, and now have more than 300 active members, with plans to move from their current location to a bigger building.
Serekeâs life is testimony to the growing worldwide influence of Pentecostalism. The broad, intensely experiential conservative Protestant movement began in late 19th-century England and America and has grown to more than half a billion followers.
Pentecostals were virtually non-existent when Sereke was born in Addis Ababa 47 years ago.
He grew up in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, among the worldâs most ancient branches of Christianity, which still counts half of the country as adh