World Interfaith Harmony Week welcomed to Toronto this year

In News by 1 Billion Rising Lower Mainland Initiative

Friday, 25 January 2013 08:09

Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s interfaith director, is on the steering committee for Toronto’s World Interfaith Harmony Week.
Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s interfaith director, is on the steering committee for Toronto’s World Interfaith Harmony Week.- Photo by Sarah Florez

Week promotes tolerance and peace among religions

TORONTO – World Interfaith Harmony Week is coming to Toronto for the first time.

The United Nations Initiative, which originated in 2010 and is meant to promote peace, love, tolerance and understanding among followers of all religions, will run Feb. 1-7 at various Toronto locations. The theme for Toronto will be looking for ways to work together.

“It’s an important thing, not only for Catholics, but for all Christians to be exposed to and to become more aware of the importance of other religions in the world,” said Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the archdiocese of Toronto. “In the absence of not knowing, generally suspicion arises.”

MacPherson is on the steering committee for World Interfaith Harmony Week in the city. The committee chair is John Voorpostel, a member of the Lutheran community.

Voorpostel wanted to organize the event last year, but he was too late in getting things together.

“Nothing was being done in Toronto to recognize it, but when I started calling people together I found so much work had already been done in the interfaith community in Toronto,” he said. “Looking at World Interfaith Harmony Week is new, but the work in the interfaith community has been going on for a long time.”

The City of Toronto will be making an official proclamation for the week of interfaith harmony, said Voorpostel. He has approached the provincial and federal governments to officially and permanently recognize the week as well, though that will be a longer process.

“Toronto’s an especially significant place because here, being the most ethnically diverse city in the world, we have all the major world religions in place and, in some cases, in good numbers,” MacPherson said.

He said it is important to know and understand who our neighbours are and what they believe.

“You don’t have to believe what they believe, but you certainly should respect what they believe and build up that common community of humankind,” said MacPherson. “And that’s really the call of the Gospel, certainly the teaching and expectation that frequently comes from Pope Benedict and also his predecessor and predecessors to open the minds of Christians and Catholics beyond their own belief. Not that their belief is not full and true, but also to be able to understand and respect the faith of others.”

Voorpostel has found that “people are extremely receptive to this (interfaith harmony week) at the grassroots level and very quick to embrace its principles, which is to find out what it is about one another that we have in common and then learn also about what our differences are and respect them.”

In five years, Voorpostel hopes that harmony week will be an important interfaith event in Toronto.

“On a personal note, this has done a tremendous amount to strengthen my own faith because I realize we as Christians are really not alone in our journey to God and others have found God in their own way and we all share this journey,” said Voorpostel. “We’re all simply on different roads together. And so that’s been a very powerful realization for me.”

The week’s festivities are still being planned, but so far sponsors include the Toronto Area Interfaith Council, which represents numerous religions. The kickoff event on Feb. 1, sponsored by the Toronto chapter of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, will be about celebrating interfaith culture and will be held at Subhani Hall at the Jamia Riyadhul Jannah, a mosque in Mississauga.

“Any profit that this dinner makes will be used to send an interfaith work team to build a house for Habitat for Humanity,” said Voorpostel.

The closing event on Feb. 7 will be an evening at the Canadian Japanese Cultural Centre in Toronto. Hosted by the interfaith council, speakers representing various faiths will discuss the “underlying ideals of interfaith harmony” and the theme for 2013, said Voorpostel.

For more information on the opening activities call (647) 404-3050.