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May the Force be with you. And also with you. Amen.

An astonishing 20,000 Canadians declared themselves to be followers of the religion of Jedi, the guardians of peace and justice in the Star Wars flicks, in yesterday's 2001 census release.

Will the holy trinity one day be replaced with "in the name of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker"?

Not likely, says Denis Dion, a 44-year-old produce manager from just outside Vancouver who circulated an e-mail urging anyone who wanted to have fun with the Statistics Canada census to identify themselves as Jedi when asked about their religion.

In the blockbuster George Lucas sci-fi films, Jedis are depicted as holy warriors who use the powerful strength of "the Force" to overcome sinister elements. Unfortunately, some Jedis use the Force for evil instead, but ultimately the virtuous Jedis prevail.

Mr. Dion and some friends who volunteer at the Canadian Ski Patrol in Vancouver had been talking about their love of all things Jedi when they decided to see how many Canadians would be willing to tell Statscan they too were followers.

The Jedi membership drive was his way of thumbing his nose at the government for asking what he feels is an inappropriate question.

"My religion is my issue, not the government's," Mr. Dion said.

The Jedi gag is the latest in a global census trend that has left some statisticians red-faced as the number of Jedis have eclipsed some centuries-old religions.

In Britain, for example, there are more Jedis than Jews. Nearly 400,000 people identified themselves as Jedi in the 2001 census. Only 260,000 said they were Jewish. The Jedis seemed to be concentrated in England and Wales.

Just last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that more than 70,000 people named Jedi as their faith. An e-mail had said the government would be forced to recognize Jedi as an official religion if enough people identified themselves as followers.

"Whether Jedi becomes a new category in the classification will depend more on other criteria, such as the existence of a formal organization structure rather than the number of responses," John Struik, Australia's census manager, said at the time.

Half Canada's Jedis were in B.C., the rest in Ontario and Alberta.

"Klingons, Ferengis, Vulcans, Hobbits, Jedis -- we don't discriminate. They are all welcome as long as they have passed medical and security checks," Mark Dunn, director of communications for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre, joked to The Globe and Mail.

Derek Evans is the director of the Naramata Centre just north of Penticton, B.C., which is affiliated with the United Church of Canada. He understands why young people may be drawn to the Force.

"It's part of a journey of a young man discovering the powers that rest within himself and how he can access it for his own strength and nurture, or of the people he cares about, through focusing his intentions on good," he said.

"I think that's what most great religious traditions teach us."