More Catholics here

By CATHY DOBSON
The Observer

It's difficult for Father Alexander Costa and his parish to understand why St. Edward's is shutting down when nearly one-quarter of Point Edward's population lists Roman Catholic as their religion of choice.

In fact, Catholicism is the predominant religion in Point Edward, just as it is in Sarnia, St. Clair Township and Warwick Township.

On Tuesday, results of the Canadian census taken in 2001 were released, including religious affiliations for the first time since 1991.

St. Edward's Roman Catholic Church opened in Point Edward in 1957 and serves a community that remains largely Catholic.

But it will close at the end of June, not because of financial difficulties or a small membership, but because of a shortage of priests.

"When you hear the numbers from the census, it doesn't make any sense at all to any one of us," says Father Costa. "We are not a rich parish but we survived and we paid our expenses."

He said local Roman Catholics "deserve to be served, but unfortunately we don't have sufficient personnel."

St. Edward's parishioners will be absorbed into the church of their choice, likely Sacred Heart or Our Lady of Mercy in Sarnia. Census results show the United Church has the second highest membership in local municipalities where Catholicism is number one. And, where the Catholic Church is not number one, the United Church is.

In Sarnia, for instance, 32.6 per cent of the population (22,795 residents) said they are Catholic, and 16.7 per cent or 11,715 said they went to the United Church.

The United Church was the most attended in Petrolia (26 per cent), in Plympton-Wyoming (25.5 per cent), in Lambton Shores (32.3 per cent), in Dawn-Euphemia (32.4 per cent), in Brooke-Alvinston (28.5 per cent), in Oil Springs (43.7 per cent) and in Enniskillen Township (45.8 per cent).

Father Alexander Costa stands out front of St. Edward's Roman Catholic Church in Point Edward. It's closing because of a lack of priests, even though Catholics make up the largest religious group in the village, according to the census.
Since religious affiliations were last asked 10 years ago, one of the major changes nationally was how many people listed "no religion" as an answer on their census questionnaires.

In 1991, only 12.3 per cent listed no religion, compared with just 7.3 per cent in 1981.

For the 2001 census, the national average was 16.2 per cent. Sarnia had slightly more who don't affiliate themselves with a church, with 16.6 per cent (11,620 respondents) saying they had no religion.

"It's sad of course," says Father Costa. "But I'm not surprised 16 per cent don't have any religion.

"We are living in a neo-pagan culture that has no faith. People are more materialistically inclined. We cannot force them to practise," he said.

At Sarnia's Grace United Church, Rev. Christine Jerrett says culturally people aren't affiliating with any organizations, whether it's service clubs or churches.

"They just don't want to join anything. Culturally, we're encouraged not to become part of a community," she said.
"I think people are interested in spirituality but not in organized religion, whether it's because the church is perceived as too rigid or too boring."

An unwillingness to change among those who do go to church may be a contributing factor, Jerrett added.

"In many churches, we have chosen to keep doing the same things even though people are driven away. At Grace, I feel they are very good at embracing change but I've seen other churches that are resistant to it," she said.


From The Observer (Sarnia)
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Page: A1 / Front Section: News
as published in The Observer)

(photo by Nora Penhale of The Observer)


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