MONTREAL - Lonely, depressed and missing her family in the Philippines, Cosette Pena looked to God in hopes of finding comfort in her new adoptive country.

Now, 20 years after it was founded in 1992, the tiny evangelical church in Montreal where Pena forged vital links to the Filipino community in Canada is bursting at the seams with new members and searching for a new, larger building to call home.

"I found a connection immediately because the people are so friendly," said the 53-year-old Pena, one of thousands of Filipinos who have settled in Canada through the federal government's live-in caregiver program.

"If people have problems — they are depressed, they miss their families — then it's a way of coping."

The Philippines emerged between 2006 and 2011 as a leading country of birth for people who immigrated to Canada during those five years,

An estimated 152,300 of newcomers who arrived in Canada between 2006 and 2011 — about 13.1 per cent — were born in the Philippines, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday as it released the first tranche of data from its 2011 National Household Survey.

The survey showed the Philippines as "the leading country of birth" for Canadian immigrants during that five-year period — but a note in the release Wednesday said the result "was not in line" with data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"A number of factors could explain this difference, such as the effects of sampling, response patterns, and under- or over-estimation of certain groups of recent immigrants in the NHS."

While the Christian faith continues to dominate Canada's immigrant profile, its proportion has been steadily fading. Where more than 78 per cent of immigrants to Canada prior to 1971 identified themselves as Christians, that proportion has dropped to 47.5 per cent among those who arrived over the past five years, the survey found.

Meanwhile, the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths have been growing, claiming 33 per cent of those immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2011. Among those who arrived before 1971, that share was just 2.9 per cent. All told, the four religions accounted for some 2.4 million people in Canada in 2011, about 7.2 per cent, compared with 4.9 per cent a decade earlier.

And then there's the non-believers: nearly one-quarter of the Canadian population, some 7.8 million people, claimed no religious affiliation in 2011, up from 16.5 per cent in 2001.

The arrival of religious immigrants has worked to offset the country's growing secular population, said Morton Weinfeld, a sociology professor at McGill University in Montreal.

"To a certain extent, this adds a level of traditionalism to Canadian society," Weinfeld said. "There is probably a higher level of commitment (among immigrants) to their respective faiths."

Unlike its predecessor, the cancelled mandatory long-form census, the results of the 2011 survey come with a caveat: because the NHS was voluntary, Statistics Canada warns that its findings carry a greater risk of "non-response error."

For many immigrant groups, religion plays a vital role as new arrivals to Canada contend with the often confounding challenges and difficulties that come with establishing a new home in a completely different country, he added.

"Churches or mosques or even some synagogues help in the adjustment and integration process."

Pena's church is located in Montreal's Cote-des-Neiges neighbourhood, one of the most densely populated and ethnically diverse in Canada.

The First Filipino Baptist Church of Montreal is one of three small evangelical churches that have popped up on a two-block stretch.

In its earliest years, the congregation amounted to about a dozen people, made up mostly of Filipinas who came to Canada under the caregiver program, said Chamberlina Lazaga, who joined the church when she arrived in Canada in the early 1990s.

"To be away from family, it's hard," Lazaga said. "So we founded this second family."

Today, the church plays a key role in assisting new members arriving from the Philippines get settled in Canada, helping them to find an apartment, collect furniture and amass the necessary clothing for the harsh Canadian winter.

"It's not only spiritually, it's all aspects of life," Lazaga said.

The ranks of the church's congregation swelled gradually as the women who founded it became landed immigrants, sponsored their husbands, and had more children.

Membership now totals more than 100 people, forcing the church to divide its service into two separate Sunday services.

For the moment, the service is held in a space about the size of a coffee shop on the ground floor of a modest two-storey brick building, while the basement and the top floor are reserved for Sunday school.

Like many Filipinos, Pena was raised as a Catholic, but turned to her new Baptist faith in Singapore, where she worked as a nanny before moving to Montreal.

She became a Canadian citizen in July 1999. She continues to work as a nanny for a French-speaking family, and says the church has been a source of strength through the years.

"I truly believe only God can help people in terms of their problems in life," she said.

"For us, it is very fulfilling."

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  • The Survey

    CP — Statistics Canada released the first tranche of results Wednesday from the 2011 voluntary National Household Survey, which replaced the cancelled mandatory long-form census. The survey, which replaced the mandatory long-form census cancelled by the Harper Conservatives in 2010, is filled with warnings that the data may not be as accurate, given the survey's voluntary nature. HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Nation Of Immigrants

    Canada was home to an estimated 6,775,800 immigrants in 2011, comprising 20.6 per cent of the population — more than ever before and the highest proportion of all G8 countries.

  • Aboriginal Population Growth

    Canada's aboriginal population grew by 20.1 per cent — 232,385 people — between 2006 and 2011, compared with 5.2 per cent for non-aboriginal people. 1,400,685 people identified themselves as aboriginal in 2011, representing 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population. Aboriginal Peoples accounted for 3.8 per cent of the population in 2006, 3.3 per cent in 2001 and 2.8 per cent in 1996.

  • Foster Care

    Almost half (48.1 per cent) of all children aged 14 and under in foster care in Canada in 2011 were aboriginal children.

  • Aboriginal Children

    Aboriginal children aged 14 and under made up 28 per cent of Canada's total aboriginal population, while their non-aboriginal counterparts represented 16.5 per cent of all non-aboriginals.

  • Native Tongue

    Only 17.2 per cent of aboriginals reported being able to conduct a conversation in an aboriginal language, compared with 21 per cent in the 2006 census.

  • Foreign-Born

    About 1,162,900 foreign-born people immigrated to Canada between 2006 and 2011, making up 17.2 per cent of the foreign-born population and 3.5 per cent of Canada's total population.

  • Ethnic Origins

    More than 200 different ethnic origins were reported in the 2011 survey, with 13 of them representing more than a million people each.

  • Visible Minorities

    Nearly 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a visible minority, representing 19.1 per cent of the population. 65 per cent of them were born outside Canada.

  • Predominant Groups

    South Asians, Chinese and blacks accounted for 61.3 per cent of the visible minority population, followed by Filipinos, Latin Americans, Arabs, Southeast Asians, West Asians, Koreans and Japanese.

  • Religion

    More than 22.1 million people — two-thirds of Canadians — said they were affiliated with a Christian religion, including 12.7 million Roman Catholics, the largest single group.

  • No Religion

    7.8 million people, 23.9 per cent of the population, reported having no religious affiliation.

  • Slightly more than one million people, or 3.2 per cent of the population, identified themselves as Muslim, while Hindus represented 1.5 per cent, Sikhs 1.4 per cent, Buddhists 1.1 per cent and Jews one per cent.

  • NEXT: Highlights Of 2011 Census

  • Highlights Of The 2011 Census

    Here are some highlights from the 2011 Canadian Census. With files from <em>The Canadian Press</em>. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • 33,476,688 People

    As of May 2011, 33,476,688 people were enumerated in Canada, nearly twice as many as in 1961 and 10 times the number in 1861. (Alamy)

  • Population Growth Speeds Up

    Canada's population grew by 5.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, up slightly from 5.4 per cent during the previous five years. (<a href="" target="_hplink">Flickr: jtbradford</a>)

  • Go West

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  • We're Number One

    Canada's population growth between 2006 and 2011 was the highest among G8 countries. (<a href="" target="_hplink">Flickr: WarmSleepy</a>)

  • Exceptions To The Rule

    Every province and most territories saw their population increase between 2006 and 2011; the rate of growth increased everywhere except in Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. (AP)

  • Ontario Falters

    The growth rate in Ontario declined to 5.7 per cent, its lowest level since the early 1980s. (Alamy)

  • Saskatchewan Out Of The Red

    Population growth in Saskatchewan hit 6.7 per cent, compared with a negative growth rate of 1.1 per cent between 2001 and 2006; the province welcomed more than 28,000 immigrants during the latest census period, nearly three times the number of the previous five-year period. (<a href="" target="_hplink">Flickr: Just a Prairie Boy</a>)

  • Yukon And Manitoba Take Off

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  • The East Is Growing Too

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  • Cities Rule..

    Nearly seven of every 10 Canadians lived in one of Canada's 33 main urban centres in 2011. (<a href="" target="_hplink">Flickr mark.woodbury</a>)

  • .. Except Not In Ontario..

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  • Maybe Because Everyone Moved To Alberta

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