September 2013



by Leslie Mezei

Dear Readers,

I had the privilege of starting Interfaith Unity News in May, 2002, with Toronto area and Canadian interfaith news and forthcoming events, which was produced brilliantly for its five years by Terry Weller until last Fall. Then we merged it into The Interfaith Observer under the name of TIO-in-Canada, which I have edited for the last year. It is now produced and mailed by TIO; we only have to select and format the items to be included. And the active leadership and editing skills of Paul Chaffee have been marvelous.

However, because of health issues, I have to retire again, at the still-active age of 82. This will be the last issue I edit, and unless there is a volunteer to take it over, the last issue of TIO-in-Canada. If you, or someone you know, would consider taking it on, please e-mail Paul Chaffee or give me a call at 416-226-9872. Of course, I would be delighted to assist you with the transition, and after.

I will remain a contributor from time to time to this wonderful international interfaith magazine: The Interfaith Observer.

** ** **


What I Learned at NAIN Connect 2013 in Toronto

by Leslie Mezei

Multifaith Centre, University of Toronto

Multifaith Centre, University of Toronto

Those of us who didn’t believe that Toronto was ready to host the NAIN Conference this year did not think dynamically enough. An outstanding set of organizers and volunteers came out of the woodworks, led by Gail Allen of the United Church, Fredelle Brief, a Jew, Chander Khanna, a Hindu, and Richard Chambers, the director of the Multifaith Centre at the University of Toronto, which did a gracious job of hosting us.

We were treated to a superb set of plenary speakers, panels, parallel workshop sessions, site visits, and meals, culminating in a banquet in the Great Hall of HartHouse celebrating 25 years of the North American Interfaith Network, with many of its past chairs in attendance. Of the 150 attendees, there were an unprecedented 50 young adults! Their panel was an inspiration to all of us. So was the panel of First Nations speakers.

  • I learned that some felt that the theme “In Diversity is Our Strength” should be extended to “In Diversity is Our Strength and Challenge.” A number of speakers referred to the need to share not only our successes but also our difficulties, to speak from the heart both our joys and our pains.
  • I learned that in seeking respect for differences, we need not only to overcome ignorance, but also misinformation spread by bigoted and self-serving individuals and organizations.
  • I also learned that for the interfaith movement, it is no longer enough to dialogue with each other; we must get into social action together to overcome the ills of the world, and help those that need it the most.

No doubt there will be more detailed reports in TIO and elsewhere. Everyone I talked to was enthusiastic and reenergized for the work ahead. And I came away proud of the Toronto area interfaith community.

New President and Manager

Ontario Multifaith Council on Spiritual and Religious Care Annual General Meeting

“On June 26, 2013, OMC held its Annual General Meeting at the Zoroastrian Temple in Toronto. The new OMC Executive Committee was elected. Pandit Roopnauth Sharma has taken over as OMC President. Pandit Sharma is the founder and spiritual leader of Mississauga Ram Mandir with many achievements in leadership within the Hindu community and the Canadian Interfaith context. OMC is excited about his elected position along with the other members of the executive. At the meeting, people were introduced to new staff. Michael Yeshe Skaljin is the new Manager - Operations & Regions. Michael worked from OMC in the past as Manager of the Re-integration Program from 2003 - 2006. We’re glad to have him back on the OMC team. Dr. Mohammed Taher is continuing his work with OMC in a new position as Informational Specialist. The meeting showed optimism for the organization in 2013- 2014 year.”

Editor’s Note: More recently, Michael Skaljin was executive director of ISARC (Faith Communities in Action Against Poverty). The website has not been updated yet.

Forthcoming Minority Quebec Government’s Controversial ‘Charter of Values’ Proposes to Ban Religious Symbols in the Service of the Public

In 2008 a Quebec parliamentary commission led by historian Gerard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor,promoting “secularism,” made suggestions for a “reasonable accommodation,” which would have public employees in a position of authority be barred from wearing religious symbols, such as turbans, kippas, hijabs and visible crucifixes. This was not followed up until now, when the minority separatist PQ Government announced that it is imminently planning to introduce such legislation. Claims are being made that it would be popular among the majority French-speaking population of the Province of Quebec.

Among the shocked opposition, a Toronto Star Editorial called the proposal “shameful”: “Quebec’s Parti Québécois government is plumbing new depths in its cynical campaign to pump oxygen into the sputtering cause of sovereignty.” “Cynical,” because not only would it go against the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act, but it would fly in the face of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which includes a guarantee of freedom of religion, and therefore would be found unconstitutional. We will follow developments.

Canada’s Prison System Needs Muslim Preachers Who Can Teach Peace to Terrorists

Cuts to Canada’s Prison Chaplain Program Hinder Efforts to Rehabilitate Terrorists

Editorial, The Toronto Star, August 13, 2013

Canada has relatively few terrorists in its prisons, compared to some other countries. But the handful of people who have been convicted and jailed for terror offences are a troubling subset of the prison population who need a special brand of rehabilitation. Experts have long called for a dedicated program for Islamist extremists and others who commit violent acts in the name of religion that aims to deradicalize them, partly by providing healthy counselling that challenges the distorted religious beliefs that motivate them. Canada doesn’t have such a program, and we should. Given the need, it’s discouraging that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is trying to squeeze a bit of money out of the prison system by laying off 49 part-time chaplains, including some who have altered prisoners’ lives in positive ways by engaging them in cultural terms they can understand...

“We have programs that deal with anger management, we have conflict resolution,” says Imam Yasin Dwyer, the only full-time Muslim chaplain left in Ontario. “There’s not a lot of formal support for programs specifically related to counter-radicalization.” Now there’s less even of an informal program. Of the remaining full time chaplains left in the system, 72 are Christian and 2 are Muslim, a breakdown that hardly reflects our multicultural society or prison needs. There are, it is true, 2,500 religious volunteers from all faiths who provide spiritual services. But few have the moral authority or the depth of knowledge and training that a fully-qualified religious leader possesses, much less the pastoral experience needed to set an offender back on a healthier track.” ... 

[Read More…]

For another story on the subject in The Star, go here.


Expanded Milestones In Modern Catholic-Jewish Relations

Compiled by Sister Lucy Thorson (of the Sisters of Sion) and Dr. Murray Watson, the “Milestones” highlight more than two dozen major events over the last 70 years which illustrate the striking change that has taken place in the interaction between the Catholic and Jewish communities since the Second World War. Beginning with the historic 1947 Seelisberg Conference (and its landmark “Ten Points” regarding Christian teaching about Judaism), and continuing right up to the papacy of Pope Francis, the Milestones focus on the growth and deepening of that relationship, and the significant healing that has been taking place between Jews and Christians.

The Milestones initiative is made up on three components, available on the Scarboro Missions website:

  • a Web document, which provides brief summaries of each of the Milestones, together with live Internet links to the full text of the documents referenced, or video of the events described. This Web site is also illustrated with photos of many key moments in that development;
  • the Milestones in downloadable PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format, suitable for printing and distribution to classes or small groups;
  • an accompanying Powerpoint (PPS) presentation with photos, which can be easily downloaded.

The Web document and the PDF handouts are also available in French.

As the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II’s landmark declaration on the Catholic relationship to other faiths (Nostra Aetate) approaches in 2015, the Scarboro Interfaith Department hopes that these new materials can enable the public to become more aware of the dramatic progress of the last 70 years. These materials have been designed to be of use to a variety of different audiences:

  • to high school religion teachers (especially those teaching a world religions curriculum, or discussing Judaism and its relationship to Christianity), for use in their classrooms;
  • to university and college professors and their students;
  • to leaders of adult education or faith-sharing groups in churches or synagogues;
  • to local or regional interfaith groups or organizations dedicated to promoting interreligious collaboration and mutual understanding; and
  • to individuals (both Jews and Christians) who seek to delve more deeply into contemporary Catholic teaching about Jews and Judaism.

If you have any questions about the Milestones, please contact Sister Lucy Thorson NDS at the Scarboro Missions Interfaith Department, by phone at 416-261-7135 Ext 244, or by e-mail.