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World Religions At Home in Toronto

More than 10,000 visitors are expected as the Parliament of World Religions opens its doors in Canada’s largest city next week, Convivium contributor Susan Korah reports.

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World Religions At Home in Toronto October 26, 2018  |  By Susan Korah
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In a city home to two million Catholics where Mass is said in more than 30 languages, it’s an easy guess what Cardinal Thomas Collins will make the centre of his keynote address when the Parliament of World Religions opens in Toronto next week.

 “Hospitality and inclusion have always been built into the church in Toronto,” says Neil MacCarthy, Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. “Cardinal Collins will reflect on this feature of the Archdiocese of Toronto throughout its history.” 

A member of the planning committee that is coordinating Catholic participation in the 2018 edition of the Parliament of World Religions, MacCarthy has put his busy work schedule on hold for a brief conversation with Convivium.ca on how he and his colleagues are working to contribute to the event’s theme “the promise of inclusion, the power of love” from a Catholic perspective.  

The Parliament will be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from November 1 to 7.

Outlining the history of the Archdiocese, MacCarthy explains that hospitality and outreach had always been strong features of the Catholic community in the Greater Toronto Area. These were exemplified by Michael Power, the first Bishop of Toronto, who died of typhus caring for Irish immigrants fleeing famine in their country in the 19th century, and by the community’s warm welcome of the “boat people” from Indo-China in the 1980s, he says.

“How can we continue that tradition and challenge one another to welcome the stranger in our midst?” MacCarthy asks, underlining the call to extend hospitality, generosity and empathy even further. 

From a relatively homogenous city when it was founded in 1793, Toronto has now become globally renowned for its diversity. The most highly populated city in Canada, it is now home not only to Catholics of diverse cultural origins, but also to followers of almost every religious and spiritual tradition in the world.

According to the Chicago-based NGO organizing the global forum, the Parliament’s 2018 theme was inspired in part by the character of the host city.

Over 10,000 people are expected participate during the seven days, which will offer more than 500 programs, workshops, and dialogues together with music, dance, art and photography exhibitions and related events presented by the world’s religious communities and cultural institutions.

The Catholic Church is well positioned to send a strong message of inclusion and love, according MacCarthy and his colleagues on the Parliament of World Religions planning committee of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“After Vatican II, there was a call to work with other religions,” says Father Prakash Lohale, Director of Interfaith and Ecumenical Affairs, referring to the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican from 1962-1965.

Vatican II re-examined the relations between the Catholic Church and with Islam, Judaism and other living faiths. This led to greater emphasis on understanding other religions, and to the Church participating in many interfaith dialogues and exchanges. 

Playing an active role in the World Parliament of Religions represents a continuation of this tradition, says Lohale.

MacCarthy, Father Lohale and Deacon Steve Pitre, are working along with many others in the Archdiocese of Toronto on the most effective ways to present the Catholic approach to global understanding, reconciliation and positive change.

Workshops, as well as the exhibition booth coordinated by the Archdiocese, are designed to deliver these themes, both visually and through oral presentations and discussions.

“We are totally about dialogue rooted in holiness,” says Father Lohale. 

Three simulated stained glass panels representing the Universal Catholic, Church, the Canadian Catholic church, and other denominations and religions will form the backdrop to the exhibition booth, signifying a spirit of ecumenism and inclusivity.

A number of workshops will contribute to sub-themes or tracks of the conference. Among these are the women’s, climate action, indigenous and justice tracks.

Contributing to the women’s track and the indigenous track will a workshop entitled “Catholic Women on the Front Line: Evangelization, Care and Outreach” on Nov. 2 at the Convention Centre.

A panel featuring three distinguished female Canadian Catholic leaders who are making a profound impact locally, nationally, and globally will talk about their contributions, and how women use their gifts and talents to lead the church in new and creative ways.

The three panelists are Dr. Moira McQueen, Dr. Josephine Lombardi and Sr. Divina Pedro, CSJ.

Dr. McQueen is Executive Director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute which conducts research and education on issues such as palliative care, end of life issues and reproductive technologies from a Catholic perspective.  In 2014 Pope Francis appointed her to the International Theological Commission, a 30-member Vatican advisory body within the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Dr. Lombardi is Associate Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology, Professor of Field Education and Director of Lay Formation at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough, Ontario.

Sr. Divina is based at the Our Lady of the Snows Mission in Fort St. James, British Columbia and works closely with First Nations communities facing significant challenges such as high unemployment and substance abuse among teenagers.

Emlie Callan, of the Salt and Light Media Foundation will moderate this panel.

That same day, “Faith in the Public Square,” a workshop that aligns with the justice track, will be led by Professor Randy Boyagoda, Principal and Vice-President, University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. 

Boyagoda will lead a discussion about how the Catholic intellectual tradition offers an active, globally-minded set of convictions and sensibilities that are critical in today’s world for religiously serious people to engage constructively in political discussion, influence public policy and social action and engagement.

“It will be about how we can find ways to engage with the world which has become more attuned to secular rather than sacred concerns,” he says.

Father Robert Allore, chaplain at the University of British Columbia, will also lecture that day on Pope Francis’ publication Laudato Si, which considers the environment from a faith perspective.

On Nov. 6, Father Damian MacPherson, former Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs will participate as one of the three panelists in a “Dialogue of Friendship, Support and Collaboration” among the three Abrahamic faiths in Canada- Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  Moderated by Kyle Ferguson, Advisor for Ecclesiastical and Interfaith Relations to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the panel will feature representatives from Islam and Judaism as well.


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