From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Spaniards/
It is widely held that the Spaniards are a very religious people. This is debatable, if by religious one means the continuous and formal adherence to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the vast majority say that they are Roman Catholics and Catholicism was the official religion of the state until 1978, few regularly attend Mass and receive the sacraments, especially in the south, east, and central regions of the country. These regions have a long tradition of anti-clericalism which has not always been contained. The historic identification between the church and the status quo led to the killing of almost 7,000 members of the clergy during the Spanish Civil War. For its part, the church strongly supported the Nationalists without condemning the extensive repression and terror they used.
In the northern parts of the country, the influence of the church is much greater. In both the Basque provinces and Catalonia the clergy was so closely integrated into local life that it played a significant role in the development of the nationalist movements there. In the 1960s, with the coincidence of the rapid secularization of Spanish society and changes in the Church deriving from the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic hierarchy began to move away from its support of the Franco regime and to advocate national reconciliation.
The majority of the Spanish immigrants in Canada share many of these historic and cultural contradictions. They and their families take part in marriage, baptism, first communion, and last rites within the church. But most of them do not attend Mass except on those occasions and on others that are more social than strictly religious in nature. Weekly attendance at Mass is low: according to one study of Spaniards in Ottawa only 10 percent and sometimes even less. Only 3 percent of the Spaniards in Winnipeg participate actively in religious groups or events. In most cases, participation in religious activities is much less than in cultural ones.
On some occasions, such as on the days commemorating local, regional, or national saints and virgins – Montserrat, Guadalupe, Lourdes, Covadonga, and Fatima – Canadian Spaniards do organize activities, often together with the Portuguese or Latin American communities. Such events include a Mass, at which attendance is usually greater than the norm, although less than at the non-religious part of the celebration. The festival of San Fermín in early July, which has become world famous for the running of the bulls through the streets of the city of Pamplona, is celebrated in Toronto with singing and dancing. There are also some religious activities on 12 October, which is celebrated in Spain as the “Day of the Virgin of the Pillar” (el día del Pilar) as well as a national holiday celebrating Columbus’s arrival in America. In any case, it is clear that these are events in which it is impossible to separate the religious from the national, ethnic, and cultural.
For its part, the Roman Catholic Church has never paid the Spanish community particular attention. Spanish immigrants share services with other Latin Catholics, primarily Italians, Portuguese, and francophones. Quebec was a special case, and one that gave rise to some particular cultural conflicts. The Spaniards who settled in Montreal in the 1950s found that the Québécois priests enjoyed considerable prestige and power within the community and conducted themselves in ways to which many Spaniards were unaccustomed. The interference by the priests in people’s daily lives came as a shock because they were accustomed to a clergy in Spain that recognized the difference between respect for religious forms and customs and everyday life. In an attempt to resolve these problems, the Church of Santa Teresa of Avila, which had a Spanish priest, opened in Montreal in 1965. Toronto, the other city with a significant Spanish population, does not have an exclusively Spanish parish.
Although the immigrants’ children have been educated as Roman Catholics, there is a clear decline in religious observance, even compared with the rather tenuous formal religious practice of their parents.