Understanding Among Faith Communities Essential for World Peace
Remarks by Hon.
David Kilgour at the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action
Hotel, West Edmonton Mall, Edmonton
May 4 2003
is a great honour to be with you all tonight.
As Dr. Zohra Husaini, a Muslim member of the board of directors of this
Interfaith Centre, said recently, "There are few times in history when
interfaith cooperation was needed as much as now."
Hans Kung, the Roman Catholic theologian, similarly noted:
"There can be no peace among nations without peace among religions;
no peace among religions without dialogue among religions; no dialogue among
religions without ethical standards..." Can anyone here or anywhere
must immediately salute the fourteen faith communities, which since 1995 have
come together to form this respected body.
Your work has included interfaith discussions, visits to the worship
centres of your member groups and others, joint advocacy on public
issues-including health care and poverty, and holding services for peace. You
provide a roster of persons from the different faiths to offer prayer at the
opening of the weekly meetings of our City Council. You provide a prayer service at our annual Heritage Days and
co-ordinate interfaith services in hospitals.
major priority of the Interfaith Centre is a service each March 21st for the
International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Sister Rosaleen Zdunick, Coordinator of the Centre, notes that you help
schools as far away as Wainwright and Red Deer in having interfaith study days.
Since the events of 9/11, the Centre has helped to provide an
introduction of the Muslim faith for numerous events.
here tonight who has not visited the Interfaith Centre offices in Garneau United
Place on 84th Avenue and 111th Street should drop in.
The Centre's founding president, Rev. Don Mayne, is the current head of
the North American Interfaith Network. In
short, Edmonton, Alberta and Canada can all be very proud of what you are doing.
Edmonton can be proud to have such a Centre.
any of you recall the day a number of years ago when hundreds of us Edmontonians
of different faiths gathered at city hall to protest the "ethnic
cleansing" and other horrible persecution of our Muslim brothers and
sisters in Bosnia? How proud we all
were that day! A few years later,
many of us did the same thing at the legislative assembly to denounce the
serious mistreatment of the Christian community in Pakistan.
Why don't we all do the same thing whenever any faith community is being
persecuted anywhere? One sad answer
is that currently we would be doing so virtually daily.
anyone think that the century we just left has many substantive lessons to offer
about interfaith co-operation?
fist half of it saw slaughter, cruelty, enslavement and torture on a scale that
the world had probably never before seen. An
astonishing 150 million or so human beings in all likelihood died at the hands
of professed enemies of all religions like Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
Much of the violence was aimed at women, men and children whose only
"failing" was practising a religious faith. Unfortunately, the same pattern prevails in too many other
non-democratic countries today.
of the miracles of the 20th century was the failure of God to be driven from
human consciousness by the likes of Marx, Hegel, Huxley, Nietzsche, Russell,
Shaw, Sartre and others who attacked with their words.
Belief in God continued among most of humanity across the earth and is
now growing strongly in many communities. In
fact, it is the God-is-dead school which appears to be on life support nowadays.
and Religious Freedom
the tumultuous period in which we are now living, it is frequently forgotten
where the UN stands on freedom of religion.
Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948
declares that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and
religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and
freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to
manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and
half-century later, most of the world's governments have committed themselves on
paper at least through international agreements to protect religious freedom for
all their nationals. The gap
between the promise and performance remains large for believers in many lands
who find that their right to religious freedom is observed more in the breach or
not at all by unscrupulous governments.
not the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made human rights central to all UN
programming? Did he not declare,
"...I believe human rights are the core of our sacred bond with peoples of
the United Nations." More than
any other Secretary General, Annan has spoken most not only of advancing rights
but of punishing those who abuse them. Four
years ago, he said: "We should leave no one in doubt that for the mass
murderers, the "ethnic cleansers", those guilty of gross and shocking
violations of human rights, impunity is not acceptable.
The United Nations will never be their refuge, its Charter never the
source of justification. They are
our enemies, regardless of race, religion or nation, and only in their defeat
can we redeem the promise of this great organization."
one here needs to be told that interfaith violence is already one of the major
problems of the 21st Century. How
can you and I help to reduce it? This
is the basic question that we all need to address.
way is for all of us to learn more about other faith communities so that we can
debunk the myth-making that so commonly is a precursor to demonization and then
violence. Let me here confess that
my own ignorance is part of the problem. In
preparing for tonight, I picked up a book, The World's Great Religions.
In reading it partly from the standpoint of where various faiths stand on
the sensitive issue of forced conversions, I was fascinated.
Let me refer only to five faiths:
is there in Hinduism, which goes back over 4000 years and has no central
authority or hierarchy, a basis for coercing non-believers to become Hindus?
Did not Prime Minister Nehru of India, who was a political disciple of
one of history's best-known Hindus, Mahatma Gandhi, pride himself on India's
secularism and constitution which prohibited the spending of public money for
any religion and the teaching of faith in public schools?
Has not Hinduism flourished since among many Indians in this structure
just as religion has done in the US, which also separates church and state
in gentle Buddhism, going back 2500 years and being one of the most enobling
influences anywhere, is there authority for coercion? Prince Gautama, or the Buddha, gave up three palaces, took up
the life of a wondering mendicant, achieved the enlightenment he was seeking and
began to preach about it. During
his 45 years in northern India, the Buddha never used force to win a single
convert. He once rebuked some of
his followers who had resorted to violence: "Shame on him that strikes,
greater shame on him who, stricken, strikes back."
in the great religion of Islam is coercion sanctioned throughout the thirteen
centuries since the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, died in 632 CE?
Does not the Qur'an say, "There will be no coercion in matters of
faith"? The God of Islam,
Allah, is also the God of Judaism, Christianity and other faiths, whose word for
Muslims was fulfilled in the Qur'an. The
Prophet was the spokesperson of God, who experienced revelations from God for a
decade or more, which he set down in the holy book of Islam.
Later, Muslims developed an outstanding culture in art, philosophy,
poetry, mathematics, architecture and medicine.
Christianity and Islam, Judaism rests on the concept of strict monotheism.
Among numerous other features, it looks to a messianic era, but is a
strongly earth-centred, with much stress on a never-ceasing effort to know God's
will as set down in the Torah. Judaism
sees history climaxing in a happier age when all peoples "beat their swords
believe that the resurrected Jesus Christ lives forever to intercede for
humankind. Jesus is not only the
founder of the faith but the essence of it:
He never forces Himself on anyone. A true Christian cannot justify doing
what Christ would never do. Coercion
and violence have nothing to do with the true teachings of Jesus.
Understanding Among Faith Communities
centuries religious leaders have been challenged to find a common ground for
people of different faiths and cultures to live together in harmony.
There is a common denominator for all peoples of different faiths and
cultures; we all believe in one God the creator of heaven and Earth; the God of
Centre knows that there are practices that help build an enabling environment
for all faiths:
conflict arises, establishing dialogue is key.
Through it, solutions begin to appear.
need to listen to others because our times require it. Daily, the world grows smaller, leaving understanding the
only place where peace can find a home. Understanding
brings respect; and respect prepares the way for harmony.
Thomas Mertononce noted, "God speaks to us in three places:
in Scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the
Jesus: "Do unto others as you
would that they should do unto you"
the Buddha: "He who would like
to reach the utmost height must be eager to learn".
minth sikh guru, Teg Bahadhur, noted that the different religions are like
flowers in a garden. He added that
if one places flowers together in a bouquet the result is even more beautiful.
other faiths helps us to minimize differences.
Educating one another helps any community to deal with ignorance.
Love and Compassion:
brings inner strength. Once
developed, it usually opens an inner door, through which we can communicate with
fellow human beings.
creates a positive atmosphere. Where
there is compassion, there is a pleasant atmosphere.
me to share some good news from our national capital.
Recently, we formed an all-party and multi-faith Working Group on
Religious-Cultural Harmony. There
have been two successful meetings and we are now working on a declaration for
the House of Commons to consider. Later,
some of us hope to initiate a religious-cultural solidarity week hopefully to be
held yearly in every constituency across the country.
It is a modest and timely beginning on a work which this Centre has
already begun well in our province.
a quote from a recent speech by His Highness the Aga Khan given in India:
"In the troubled times in which we live, it is important to
remember, and honour, a vision of a pluralistic society.
Tolerance, openness and understanding towards other people's cultures,
social structures, values and faiths are now essential to the very survival of
an interdependent world. Pluralism
is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development; it
is vital to our existence. Never
perhaps more so than at the present time, must we renew with vigour our creative
engagement in revitalizing shared heritage through collaborative ventures such
as the project we are inaugurating today."
close with a brief word of prayer:
of mercy; as we gather to celebrate your gift of love we recall with sorrow the
times when we forget you and are divided one from the other.
How often our thoughts, our words, and our actions, have betrayed the
goodness you have shown to us. Forgive
us, merciful God. Mend what is
broken. Heal the wounded
relationships that separate us form you and one another.
bless the work of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre.
you / Hae, Hae