Indigenous spirituality and traditional wisdom are woven throughout the week of interfaith study and dialogue that has brought close to 10,000 people to Toronto’s downtown convention centre to discuss religion’s place in the world. Photo by Michael Swan

Parliament of the World’s Religions tackles peace, tough issues at week-long summit

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  • November 6, 2018

As delegates from nearly 80 countries gathered in Toronto for the Parliament of the World’s Religions they were confronted with the common failure of all the world’s faiths — the failure to find peace.

“The world is still in agony, the learning continues,” Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Ji told the first plenary session of the Parliament on Nov. 1. “Peace eludes us.”

Singh and the Sikh community have proposed a “Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation” to conference delegates as a first step toward putting faith in service of a less violent, less dangerous, less angry world.

“Our shared vision is a just, peaceful and sustainable world,” Singh said.

Fellow Sikh Simran Jeet Singh emphasized the need for religions to put their ideals into practice in a video he shared just before the seven-day gathering of 10,000 delegates for 900 seminars and events got underway.

“In this moment of division and anger and hate, I believe the Parliament offers us an opportunity to come together,” he said.

The Parliament did not shy away from the tough issues of the day, from the mass shooting that killed 11 Jews in their Pittsburgh synagogue, to the migrant caravan snaking north from Honduras, to threats to the Paris climate change agreement, to the #MeToo movement.

Other sessions highlighted faith in the public square, the environmental lessons gleaned from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, and featured an address by Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins on the theme of “Welcome the stranger.”

“It’s important for religious communities to be involved because most of the people in the world today are adherents of some spiritual tradition or religion,” said Parliament of the World’s Religions board trustee Dr. Kusumita Pedersen.

Margaret Atwood, Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale, described her session at the Parliament as a discussion “to explore the nature of climate change, conflict and violence against women.”

“Religion can have different roles,” Azim Shamshiev of the Toronto-based Turkish Muslim organization Interfaith Dialogue Institute told The Catholic Register. “It can be a liberating force or it can be a tool of oppression… It doesn’t mean that religion cannot be a positive force.”

The Parliament took on the problem of violence and religion before the meeting began with its reaction to the shooting rampage at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Oct. 27.

“This crime delivers a message of hate that is aimed at a whole people, their culture and their freedom to assemble without fear,” said a statement from organizers of the Parliament. “Aberrant hearts and minds are no match for our fullest humanity, expressed in the global impulses of religion to lead lives that are holy, resilient, loving and kind.”

Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell has teamed up with General Romeo Dallaire and retired Senator Doug Roche to speak to Toronto media about how violence is distorting cultures and politics, amplifying a global refugee crisis and endangering the planet with nuclear weapons.

At a session on faith and feminism Nov. 2, Canada’s Minister for the Status of Women Maryam Monsef spoke about the role religion can play in countering violent, divisive and hateful talk that fuels too much of current politics.

“There’s a movement afoot to create chaos,” Monsef said. “My social media files make it seem that the world is less kind than it is.”

The former refugee and Canada’s first Muslim cabinet minister urged religious people to bring the best of their faith to public debates.

“Regardless of those who try to sow the seeds of mistrust and hate, the world is filled with light,” she said. “We could actually move our species forward.”

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