I think Canada’s ready for St. Francis Xavier.

Simply from a public spectacle viewpoint, the arrival of the evangelizing saint’s relic has caught the public’s eye.

The visiting arm of St. Francis Xavier has already received an extraordinary amount of media attention, from national TV and radio interviews to newspaper features. I can’t explain it. Maybe the media, despite their secular framing of the world, are experiencing a sense of some other, inexplicable dimension out there, and they’re willing to dip an exploratory toe into it.

Whatever is prompting the public attention, it’s highly appropriate. Despite the often-prevailing narrative that religion is dead or irrelevant in Canada, the facts show just the opposite.

During 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary, the Angus Reid Institute partnered with Faith in Canada 150, which is supported by the think tank Cardus, to produce several Faith and Religion in Public Life reports on religion in our society.

The findings, in short, show the death of religion has been greatly exaggerated.

Some of the specifics are fascinating. For instance, the polling data shows one in five Canadians is religiously committed, while an additional 30 per cent are privately faithful, believing in God or a higher power. Those numbers may not be cause for celebration, but they’re not insignificant either.

In addition:

·  Most Canadians, 54 per cent, say personal faith and religious belief are important in how they define their personal identity.

·  About 80 per cent of Canadians believe religious and faith communities, to some degree, contribute positively to the country, with 38 per cent saying the contribution is “very good” or “more good than bad.”

·  Perhaps most relevant, about half of Canadians, including British Columbians, say faith and religious communities should be allowed to have some or a great deal of influence on public life.

That’s a far cry from the “keep your faith in your church” philosophy we’re often told defines us as a society.

In short, we may not be a religious nation, but we’re a nation with religion. Having just celebrated Christmas, with its spiritual music, decorations, and abounding goodwill, the stirring in our collective heart for something greater than us is plain to see.

That something greater is a someone – a saviour – and when the relic of St. Francis Xavier arrives in Vancouver a month after Christmas, it will represent an extraordinary opportunity to help our neighbourhoods, workplaces, and families to encounter that saviour through the missionary saint.

The relic’s visit is aimed at encouraging vocations – missionary, religious, and priestly. It’s also about extending Francis’s evangelization. Pilgrims who visit will be urged to invite Christ into the centre of their life and to adopt a “missionary abandonment” to God’s will, continuing Francis’ mission of bringing Jesus’ saving message to every part of society.

Many will also approach the relic, which comes with the Pope’s personal blessing and a plenary indulgence, with their prayers and intentions, burdens and sufferings. They too will be urged to hand their needs to Jesus through his faithful servant Francis, since sharing our prayers and struggles with Jesus is a powerful way to invite him into one’s life, and into the world.

As we start 2018, a new year of evangelization presents itself, and the relic’s arrival couldn’t be more timely.

St. Francis would approve.