Cardinal Thomas Collins (left) calls for action to protect vicitms against the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Imam Habeeb Alli condemns the actions of ISIS. Photos by Michael Swan

Faith leaders urge peace and action

  • September 10, 2014

TORONTO - The people came to pray and were told to act.

At the end of an afternoon of prayers and readings spanning the Abrahamic faiths of Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as the wisdom of Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and others, Cardinal Thomas Collins told about 600 faithful gathered at St. Paul’s Basilica in downtown Toronto the time has come to do something about the deadly violence in parts of Iraq and Syria. 

“It is not enough to see and to understand and understand well,” said the archbishop of Toronto. “We are called to do something.” 

Though the Ecumenical and Interfaith Prayer for Peace on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 7, included prayers for Gaza and Israel, Ukraine, South Sudan and elsewhere, the clear motivation for the gathering was the expanding Islamic State — a self-declared Caliphate of Wahabi sect Sunni Muslims which has murdered, robbed and expelled Christians, Yazidis, Mandaeans, Assyrians and other minorities from their traditional homeland. Row on row of people in the pews of the historic Toronto Catholic church were wearing red and blue buttons that said “Stop Persecuting Christians.” 

“We pray for people, we offer them our help, but they are being killed,” said Collins. “So we seek to do whatever we can to encourage governments who might have the ability to protect those who are being expelled, starved, hurt in different ways. We’re grateful for the efforts of the Canadian government to do what it can, and we pray for others to do the same.” 

In the front row, listening to the cardinal, was Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney. When he was Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Kenney was the architect of a major overhaul of Canada’s refugee policies that included a focus on refugees from Iraq. 

“We are very grateful for the work of Minister Kenney over the years,” said Collins. “And the number who have arrived safe over the years because of his actions. But we need to encourage the government, to encourage all of us, to do what we can to help those who are suffering.” 

The archbishop called on all faith communities “to work together, to act effectively,” on behalf of refugees. 

Representing the Canadian Council of Imams, Imam Habeeb Alli brought assurances that Canadian Muslims and Muslims world-wide are as horrified as anyone by the murders and expulsions being committed in their name in Iraq and Syria. 

Alli drew attention to an August statement by the Canadian Council of Imams which calls the Islamic State “deviant” and guilty of “the worst and barbaric human behaviour.” 

“They claim to establish a so-called ‘Islamic caliphate’ but their abomination does exactly the opposite of what Islam calls upon believers to do, namely establish peace and justice and safeguard human rights. We categorically condemn the actions of this group and its monstrous crimes against humanity, absolutely and without equivocation.” 

As Iraqi refugees themselves, Maha Majeed and her family were grateful for the prayers of so many people and grateful for the opportunity to pray. 

“Prayer is good. We have to pray,” said Majeed, a Chaldean Catholic from Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and once home to a very large Christian community. Majeed and her family arrived in Canada in 2011 after four years living as refugees in Syria. 

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