Catholic Church Kept Vital, Thanks To Migrants

Catholic Church kept vital, thanks to migrants

The Age
December 7, 2009

MIGRANTS are keeping the Catholic Church in Australia vital and energetic, and also making church a more enjoyable place for Australian Catholics, the church's chief researcher said yesterday.

''Without migrants, church attendance and levels of satisfaction would be much lower,'' Bob Dixon, pastoral projects director for the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, told the Parliament of the World's Religions.

Migrants from a non-English-speaking background were more often in church – 14 per cent of Australia's 5.1 million Catholics attended Mass each week, compared to 29.4 per cent of Catholic migrants – but in particular a much higher proportion of their young adults attended.

In a seminar on the integration of migrants and refugees, Mr Dixon said migrants from non-English-speaking countries were 1.4 times more likely to say they grew in faith due to their parish, 2.7 times more likely to say they were always inspired by celebrating Mass, and 2.8 times more likely to follow up someone who was drifting away from church.

But they also influenced Australian-born Catholics who, in parishes with more than 30 per cent migrants, were 1.3 times more likely to say they grew in faith and 1.4 times more likely to say Mass inspired them.

''Because of their presence in the parish, liturgy is more vibrant and there's a greater sense of faith and spirituality,'' Mr Dixon said.

He said Mass in Australia was celebrated in 30 languages, from Walmajarri (indigenous) to Latin, to Sudanese, Vietnamese, Croatian and Korean.

Philip Hughes, senior researcher at the Christian Research Association of Australia, said nearly half Australia's population were first or second-generation migrants. Only 51 per cent were Australians born to Australian parents.

The biggest migrant groups, in order, were British, New Zealanders, Chinese, Italians, Vietnamese and Indians, who were the fastest growing. However, many more spoke a foreign language at home – for example, there were 278,000 Chinese migrants but 500,000 Chinese speakers.

Dr Hughes said the fastest-growing church in Australia was the Oriental Orthodox, especially the Copts from Egypt, who generally came as skilled migrants and had the highest education level of any group, with more than half those over 15 holding a university degree.

He said religion remained important for helping migrant communities find their place in Australia because it reaffirmed values, language and culture.