After more than 30 years as a centre for reflection and dialogue, Toronto’s Scarboro Missions’ interfaith office is closing. Register file photo

Scarboro Missions’ interfaith office closing after three-plus decades of work

By 
  • November 16, 2016

TORONTO – Scarboro Missions’ interfaith office, a centre for reflection and dialogue between Canadian Catholics and people of other faiths for more than 30 years, is closing.

News of the closure came in the form of a letter from Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Douglas Crosby thanking the missionary society for its contributions to interfaith dialogue in Canada.

In his Nov. 8 letter, Crosby said the Scarboro Missions interfaith department based in Toronto’s east end is expected to close in 2017.

“The commitments by Scarboro Missions to the ministry of interfaith dialogue have had a significant pastoral impact in Canada and abroad. While there must certainly be a degree of sadness about the closing of the department, Scarboro Missions should also take great joy and satisfaction in knowing that the remarkable work you have accomplished, the seeds you have sown, have richly served and benefited interfaith dialogue and will do so for years to come,” Crosby wrote.

Those close to the Scarboro Missions order have been anticipating the closure. However, Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of ecumenical and interfaith affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto, still said he was overcome with “disappointment.”

“Scarboro (Missions) is a gem in the world of interfaith,” said MacPherson. “Their contributions have been extraordinary and … I’m sure the interfaith community itself weeps at the loss.”

Founded in 1984, the Interfaith Department sought to bring together experts, academics, spiritual leaders and lay people, typically for workshops. Along with building relationships, it also created learning resources for schools and parish youth groups.

It made an international splash beginning in 2001 with its golden rule posters, comparing wording and application of the “Do unto others” ethic in 13 world religions. It was presented to the Vatican in 2002 and at the United Nations in 2004. The poster has been translated into more than half a dozen languages. More than half-a-million English language copies have been distributed in Africa.

“The ministry of dialogue is so sorely needed in our world given the painful questions facing us about war and peace, the critical need for better ecological protection and the urgency of protecting and caring for the most vulnerable,” wrote Crosby. “The Church is, and always will be, called to be a Church in dialogue. I wish to express to you gratitude and appreciation for the work of the Scarboro Missions Society.”

“Scarboro Missions is most grateful to the Most Rev. Crosby … for his recent letter of affirmation and appreciation of Scarboro Missions’ ministry in interfaith dialogue,” said Scarboro Missions vicar general Fr. Ron MacDonell. “We trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in our discernment of our future path.”

Founded in 1918 by Fr. John Mary Fraser as the China Mission College, it originally relied solely on priests to carry out the work.

A few years after Chairman Mao Zedong declared the Chinese republic in 1949, all missionaries were expelled from the communist mainland. The Scarboros then turned their attention to Japan, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, rebranding itself as the Scarboro Foreign Missions Society.

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