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Talking peace

Inter-religious cooperation thrives in Canada

By Dennis Gruending

Theologian Hans Kung once said that there will be no peace among nations until there is peace among the world’s religions, and that there will be no peace at all without dialogue. In places such as Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the West Bank and Gaza, there is a great deal of violence between people of faith. And it would be simplistic to characterize those disputes as entirely religious, but undoubtedly faith is at play in much of the violence.

We, in Canada, live at some remove from these clashes even though they’re felt keenly by Christians, Jews, Muslims and others in our religiously diverse country. Granted, there is the occasional controversy, but thankfully, there are many more examples of mutual respect.

Living in Ottawa, I know of a small group of individuals who have met regularly over the years in what its participants describe as a “Christian-Muslim dialogue.” Sure, it took a long time before they got beyond quoting their respective holy books, but they now talk in earnest.  

There is a Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI), which draws together about 40 faith-based communities and organizations, whether they be Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian. It provides safe and affordable housing while supporting individuals and families who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness. One might not expect an affordable housing crisis in Ottawa, but 14,000 households here pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent. In 2012, the organization owned and managed 41 apartments and houses that provided affordable accommodation to 90 people, including 30 children.

Then there is Potlucks for Peace, a group of Jews and Arabs who come together regularly to talk and share food. They’re committed to a respectful dialogue and, above all else, to peace in the Middle East.

I have been a student — and occasional lecturer — at the Ottawa School of Theology and Spirituality (OSTS), a group of volunteer lay Christians offering classes in an adult, informal setting. Although OSTS has Christian roots, it is open to people of any faith tradition and those who have no religious affiliation at all. Some of the most popular courses have been those taught by Ottawa Rabbi Reuven Bulka, while other well-attended classes have dealt with the history and tenets of Islam.

Increasingly, OSTS attempts to play a role in strengthening interreligious understanding and cooperation in the city. On Nov. 10, the school —  together with Jewish and Muslim groups — will host a full day of discussion and debate featuring three well-known speakers, a moderated panel and shared food. The topic will revolve around how one can be a person of faith in the 21st century in Canada.  

Perhaps, these are modest efforts, but they are authentic, attesting to Canadians’ deep-seated desire for peace and reconciliation.

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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