The 345 participants who attended the World Religions Conference on Sunday, February 5th, comfortably filled the Garry Oak Room of Saanich Commonwealth Centre when the event began at 4 p.m. Displays and food lined the perimeter of the room. Banners, screen and a temporary stage with podium lined the front.
Salaylexw Joan Morris of the Songhees Nation opened with a beautiful prayer and greeting, followed by Mayor Dean Murdoch of Saanich, who gave welcoming remarks. Short welcomes were also offered by several people including May Shihadeh of VMS and Rizwan Peerzada of the Ahmadiyya community, the principal organizers of the event.
The 9 panelists on the stage, along with Moderator Karen Harper of Saanich City Council, were: Wayne Codling (Buddhism); Leslie Flynn (Anglican); Shrikant Shenwai (Hindu); Umran Bhatti (Ahmadiyya Muslim); Lesia Kohut (New Thought); Gian Singh Kotli (Sikh); Dale Ruttan (Latter Day Saints); Shoshana Litman (Jewish); and Gita Badiyan (Bahá’í).
Each of the panelists spoke for 10 minutes on the theme of the timeless question of suffering. Gita spoke about its potential relationship with personal spiritual growth. Leslie gave a “lightning history” of how humanity has looked at suffering over the ages. Umran talked about the path of hope, compassion and mercy, and Gian of happiness, wisdom and honest labour. Dale described the process of atonement, and the connection between suffering, joy and agency. Shoshana told a beautiful story linking “choosing heaven” to choosing to serve others. Shrikant asked, “What is joy?” as the corollary question to the cause of suffering, saying that good begets good. Lesia reiterated the concept of choice, explaining that what we think becomes our life experience as expressions of infinite potentiality. Wayne spoke of the cessation of suffering through the Noble Eightfold Path of right understanding, right intention, right speech, and so on. Moderator Karen Harper remarked on the complementary nature and common threads between all these perspectives.
The East Indian meal, with vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices, lined an entire wall of the room, giving everyone time to mingle at the end and browse the displays. VMS would like to thank Mayor Dean Murdoch, Moderator Karen Harper, the speakers and participants, and especially the Ahmadiyya Muslim community for providing the meal, venue and much of the organization. This was our first year honouring World Interfaith Harmony Week by collaborating together on this event. More photos of the event are here.