Various faith groups took over Toronto’s council chambers Jan. 23 for the Faith in the City symposium. Photo by Ruane Remy

Finding faith’s place in the city

By 
  • January 30, 2013

TORONTO - Faith leaders and concerned citizens replaced politicians in city council chambers to hash out how faith communities can increase their participation in city building.

The multi-faith symposium Faith in the City took over Toronto’s council chambers Jan. 23. Five workshops were the main focus of this free, half-day event, with homelessness and housing, food security and poverty, disadvantaged youth, after-school programs and refugees on the agenda.

“Religion has a space and a place to play and a role in regards to attaching its own meaning and understanding to what the issues are,” said Fr. Damian MacPherson, who received an honourable mention for his work as director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith Affairs at the archdiocese of Toronto. “To whatever degree religion loses its power and presence in society, it’s to our own disadvantage. Religion has a voice and it needs to be heard, and it should be spoken clearly without bias.”

City councillors Joe Mihevc, Mike Layton and Sarah Doucette were among the politicians attending the event. Doucette said the community trusts faith groups, as she has seen with the 18 faith groups represented in her ward. But she finds that often their good deeds overlap.

“The faith groups have a lot of contacts… Why aren’t we working together? As a group you can have a lot more effect,” citing programs for the homeless as an area where different faith groups may collaborate.

The food security and poverty workshop focused on food affordability, people having access to such food within walking distance and turning green spaces in the city, especially in Scarborough and North York, into places for farming. The workshop stressed political and personal solutions where the city’s job is to facilitate change, but with community members as the drivers of change.

The disadvantaged youth workshop focused on how gender, class and race impact youth and how the the internal dimension of faith present in all religions can positively impact at risk youth.

Equity, access and accommodating multiple faiths was on the agenda at the after-school programming workshop. Parents are looking for safe and secure places to take their children after school, said Karen Feder, program director of The International Development and Relief Fund. Faith leaders, Toronto community development and school boards should meet, said Feder, as she discussed how to secure funding and partnerships.

The workshop on refugees concentrated on the lack of government-run programs to assist newly arrived refugees and how places of faith offer sanctuary to these people.

At the end of the day, organizers emphasized that this event will not follow in the footsteps of others like it, where the discussion and action ended with the event.

“We’re not going to be lost in the cracks,” said Doucette.

Mihevc also presented an award to Paul McKenna of Scarboro Missions for his teaching and work in the interfaith community

 

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