Female religious leaders at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo courtesy of Parliament of World Religions

Toronto prepares to host the world’s religions

  • March 21, 2018

As Toronto prepares to host more than 10,000 people in November for seven days of reflection on faith, cultures and traditions, Catholics are getting ready to play their part during the Parliament of World’s Religions.

“By understanding others and experiencing other faith groups, the diversity of those faith groups, it will enrich our own understanding of our faith,” said Deacon Steve Pitre, who is coordinating the Toronto Catholic contribution to the global conference. 

“When we learn and experience others, it’s not about taking away from ours. It’s sort of becoming deeper rooted in our faith.”

With people coming from all corners of the globe specifically to speak about what faith has to say on the major issues of the day, Toronto Catholics will have a unique opportunity to engage in important conversations. But they will also be able to experience the cultural richness of the world’s faith traditions, said Pitre.

“There’s going to be worship in the morning in a number of venues (at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre downtown),” Pitre said. “You could walk along this area and you will hear all sorts of rituals and celebrations of worship — which will be rather unique to have it all in one place.”

Mass will be celebrated each day in the convention centre, but people will also be invited to St. Michael’s Cathedral to take part in lectio divina with Cardinal Thomas Collins and they will be encouraged to visit other nearby Catholic churches where they will find Mass in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese and other languages, Pitre said.

“Toronto has been chosen as the most diverse city in the world. So we certainly play a hosting function,” said Toronto Parliament of the World’s Religions board co-chair Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton. “We want to show all those people coming to the convention centre the wondrous diversity of Toronto. We are the hosts and we are a model for the world.”

Opening ceremonies will be led by Canadian Indigenous people with help from Indigenous participants from Australia, New Zealand, Russia, the Amazon and elsewhere.

“Even in Toronto this is not something we get to do on a daily basis,” Hamilton said.

Topics that will get full, plenary treatment from experts of all faiths include women’s dignity, youth voices, healing mother Earth, inclusion and the power of love. As the largest faith group in Canada and in Toronto, Catholics have plenty to share, said Pitre.

“What we will be able to do is provide a program where people will get to understand better the Catholic Church,” he said. “While it’s diverse, there are riches within it and we do have something to talk about.”

Pitre’s committee is looking for ways to involve Catholic youth both as volunteers and as delegates to the convention. And they’re looking forward to conversations about religion that are bigger than the political battles.

“Religion is not about fighting all the time,” he said. “Religion is about making life better for people — helping people to live better lives.”

Registration for the convention, which will run from Nov. 1 -7, is open at https://parliamentofreligions.org/parliament/2018-toronto/toronto-2018. 

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