Cardinal Collins was presented with a commemorative scroll by Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti as the recently-declared city celebrated its religious diversity July 17th. Photo by Michael Swan

Cardinal Collins helps Markham celebrate its diversity

  • July 18, 2012

MARKHAM, ONT. - Markham's 140-year journey from village to city has taken the Toronto suburb from near perfect uniformity of German Lutheran farmers lured north from Pennsylvania to a religious mosaic that includes a mosque and synagogue that share the same parking lot.

Canada's newest city of more than 300,000 on the northeast shoulder of Toronto celebrated its religious diversity with a visit from Cardinal Thomas Collins July 17.

"We're the most diverse city in Canada," declared Mayor Frank Scarpitti before presenting Collins with a commemorative scroll. Collins also presented Scarpitti with a framed message of encouragement.

Markham declared itself a city on Canada Day this summer. The Toronto Area Interfaith Council organized the gathering of civic and faith leaders at city hall. It  was Markham's first chance to officially congratulate Collins since he was raised to the College of Cardinals Feb. 18.

Getting city fathers and mothers together on the basis of their divergent faiths is important at this moment in Markham's history, said Pamela Roth, president of he Markham Interchurch Committee for Affordable Housing.

"It matters because we are really working in Markham to build unity among people," said the St. Patrick's parishioner. "It's really important to model collaboration, respect."

The city has come through a wrenching debate over a 16th Avenue mosque next door to St. Brother André Catholic School. Plans for the 28,000-square-foot mosque were held up in the planning process over parking concerns. But beneath the parking objections local blogs and letters to the editor were fearful a Taj Mahal-like structure was placing a heavy, Islamic stamp on the town.

The city's planing committee has also ruled a Taoist temple designed by an award-winning architect out of character with the community.

Despite conflicts, Markham is learning to live with diversity, said Scarpitti. He pointed to the positive relationship between the Jaffari Mosque and Temple Har Zion, a mosque and synagogue that share a parking lot on Bayview Avenue and arrange regular exchanges between the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The point of dialogue among the religions is not to erase differences but to transcend division, Collins told the gathering of about 200.

"We cherish our distinct traditions yet at the same time work together, travel together," he said.

Out of their distinct religious traditions, people need to discover "the grammar of the heart," said Collins.

"We need to know the difference between a who and a what," he said. "We need to know a who for a person and to treat each person as a person... to see a child of God."

"There's so much diversity in Markham. We need an awareness," said Rona Khudayar, a Ryerson University nursing student who recited 8th century Sufi poetry for the event.

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