Toronto interfaith council launched

  • April 13, 2007
TORONTO - From Anglican to Zoroastrian, 45 faith communities came together to put the stamp of faith on Toronto’s immense diversity at the inaugural breakfast meeting of the Toronto Area Interfaith Council March 20.
Mayor David Miller thanked the 150 faith leaders present at the breakfast for their commitment to Toronto, noting how churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have been key partners in the city’s effort to fight youth gangs and crime in 13 priority neighbourhoods.

“We can show the world how to live together, and that’s a powerful Toronto value,” Miller said.

The Interfaith Council has been coming together ever since Toronto’s faith groups got together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Peace Garden in Nathan Phillips Square in 2004. At that point a number of faith leaders noted that cities much smaller than Toronto — Hamilton, Calgary, Mississauga — had interfaith councils, but Canada’s largest and most diverse city lacked a forum for all faiths to meet and discuss common concerns, said Liz Chappel of Toronto’s Bahai community.

“For a city this large not to have a faith council is unthinkable,” she said.

“There’s a certain power and energy here in this group,” said Swami Bhaktimarga of the Hare Krishna society. “This is a wholehearted effort in trying to make it a better city in which to live.”

Faith leaders meeting and learning about each other has to be good for Toronto, said Imam Waris Malik of the Islamic Foundation of North America.

“People do understand each other in different faiths,” he said. “The more you know each other the more understanding you create.”

“It’s an excellent idea, this whole thing,” said Ganga Banerji of the Vedanta Society.

For Hindus, the spirit of respect for all religion is central to their understanding of ethical, civilized behaviour, said Banerji.

“Everyone wants happiness, no one wants suffering,” said Venerable Lama Tenzin Kalsang, quoting the Dalai Lama. “That’s our common ground.”

If the new council is going to sustain itself and make a meaningful contribution to the city, it needs to come up with a central practical project, said Salvation Army Major Ken Percy. From the point of view of the Salvation Army, building housing for Toronto’s homeless, rather than simply running temporary shelters, would be the ideal project, he said.

“The city’s motto is not that diversity is something we will tolerate,” said Joe Mihevc, the city councillor who has been most involved with encouraging the TAIC to form. “It is that diversity will make us stronger.”

The houses of worship in Toronto are where ethics, a sense of purpose and duty and people’s deepest sense of identity enter the public sphere, said Mihevc.

“That’s where Toronto the good becomes Toronto the great,” he said.

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