World Interfaith Harmony Week

World Religions Conference, 5 Feb. 2023

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.

Elder Joan Morris of Esquimalt First 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 self-serve 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 the Ahmadiyya 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. Some preliminary photos are here.

World Religions Conference

Coming up on Sunday 5 Feb. 2023, this year’s event in honour of World Interfaith Harmony Week will be a World Religions Conference, to be held at the Saanich Commonwealth Centre in the Garry Oak Room, from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm. The event is our first collaboration with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which hosts similar conferences across the country each year.

Councillor Karen Harper will moderate a panel of speakers from various religious traditions followed by an East Indian dinner. There is no charge. Register at http://worldreligionsconference.ca/

Speakers will give 10-minute presentations on the theme of the Timeless Question of Suffering, from the perspectives of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Latter Day Saints, Muslim, New Thought and Sikh traditions. Please see the registration link for more details, including photos and short bios for each speaker.

Our Annual Report in Photos

Henri Lock, David Batterham, Ora Stefanic, Sheila Flood, Bear Sam, John Borrow

Bear Xekinexen Sam, from the Tsartlip First Nation, opened our Annual General Meeting on 13 November with a healing prayer and blessing. VMS Chair Dr John Borrows gave a presentation on Indigenous & Canadian Stories: New Understandings (video here).

Our Annual Report 2022 summarized the year in photos, presented by various members of the board. Current VMS board members as we enter 2023 are:

  • John Borrows – Chair, Indigenous Spirituality
  • Henri Lock – Secretary, Christian seat
  • Ora Stefanic – Treasurer, Jewish seat
  • Lesia Kohut – Unity seat
  • May Shihadeh – Muslim seat
  • Janine Theobald – Buddhist seat
  • Jagir Virk – Sikh seat
  • David Batterham – Bahá’í seat
  • Shrikant Shenwai – Hindu seat
  • Sheila Flood – Executive Director

VMS AGM: Nov. 13, 2022

University of Victoria Multifaith Centre
Dr John Borrows

Our AGM this year will begin with a keynote and short workshop by VMS Chair, Dr. John Borrows, on new understandings and relationships with Indigenous culture and history. To be held at the UVic Multifaith Centre (see link for map) on Sunday 13 November from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. 

A report on VMS activities will also be given, and the confirmation of board members who have been named since our last AGM. Registration at this link is requested. For those who wish to make this a richer experience, please consider doing some research in advance using the resources found below or at this link.

Dr. John Borrowsis the Loveland Chair in Indigenous Law at the University of Toronto and is a global leader in Indigenous law. His ideas helped shape the recommendations of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. He has led engagement with Indigenous legal traditions in Canada and internationally, bringing to light some of the injustices, inequalities and conditions of Indigenous people. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and from the Chippewas of the Nawash First Nation.   

Thanks to Hindu community!

One Spirit: Celebrating our Faiths Together

The jointly organized event at the Hindu temple on Saturday, 17 Sept. 2022, One Spirit: Celebrating our Faiths Together, was a wonderful experience – interesting, uplifting and full of happy faces! Around 55 attended (some missing from this photo). See photos here.

As VMS Hindu board member Shrikant Shenwai said in his introduction, it was like the gathering of a beautiful bouquet, there was such beauty and diversity. Elder May Sam offered a blessing, saying it was especially good to see the children, since in Indigenous culture the children are like flowers, and this was a precious addition to the bouquet.

There were artistic, devotional offerings of prayer, song, music, chant, and dance, presented by people from 6 different traditions in turn. A wonderful communal meal followed in the main hall, provided by the Hindu community assisted by multifaith volunteers.

Warm thanks to the Hindu community, MC Lesia Kohut, Shrikant Shenwai, the generous volunteers and all the enthusiastic participants!

One Spirit Celebration

We will be meeting in person to joyfully share our faiths through the arts at the Hindu Temple, with a multi-faith devotional featuring diverse styles of singing, chanting, movement and instrumentals, followed by a Southeast Asian meal. (Program here.)

Join us at 4:00 pm, Saturday, 17 September, 2022, at 1934 Cultra Avenue, Saanichton

Register early with Eventbrite since space is limited for this popular event. A donation box will be available for those who would like to contribute to the cost of the meal. Volunteers are also welcome; sign up is available on the Eventbrite registration form.

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The evening is a collaborative effort of the Hindu Parishad & Cultural Centre and the Victoria Multifaith Society. Please wear comfortable clothing since shoes are removed at the door and people will be seated on the carpet for the program, with chairs around the periphery. The vegetarian meal will be served at tables in the adjoining room. The Hindu Temple is thanked in advance for welcoming the public to this family-friendly celebration! Register here to attend.

A Great Evening!

Japanese-style Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion

A record-breaking crowd of about 300 people attended the Honouring Peace event on 9 August, to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. The annual event was held for the first time at the new Japanese-style pavilion in Esquimalt Gorge Park at the site of the original Japanese teahouse destroyed by vandalism in 1942.

Elder Bear Sam opened with a healing prayer in the Lekwungun language, explaining the significance of the headdress that had originally been a war bonnet, gifted to his father and then to him. MLA Mitzi Dean brought a message of support and encouragement from Premier Horgan. Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins began by paying tribute to the late Mayor of Oak Bay, Nils Jensen, for his preparatory role leading to this day. Mayor Desjardins read a message sent by the Mayor of Hiroshima to the Honouring Peace event, noting the inspiring progress made recently by the 2021 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Taiko drummers 9 August 2022

Speakers included Dr Dillon Takata, descended from the owners of the original teahouse, and Tsugio Kurushima of the Nikkei Society, each expressing the horror of nuclear war, including the moving poem “Children of the A-Bomb” read by Margaret Krawciw. Their comments were interspersed with short performances by the Furusato dancers, Arbutus Singers, and Taiko drummers. In the words of one participant, “it was a good honouring.” It was also a striking reminder of the need for work at every level to painstakingly build the relationships necessary for peace.

Ceremonial tree planting

Following the program, Mayor Desjardins was assisted by several others in the ceremonial tree planting of a gingko sapling that had been nurtured in Oak Bay from seeds of a Hiroshima tree that had survived the blast. The evening ended with floating the lanterns that had been decorated by participants earlier in the evening, who then set them in the reflective pools surrounding the new Pavilion.

The organizing team for the event was a first-time coalition of partners: Dr Jonathan Down (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Canada); Megumi Saunders and Tsugio Kurushima (Victoria Nikkei Society); Sheila Flood (Victoria Multifaith Society); Sharon Welsh (Greater Victoria Peace School); and Patrick Slobodian (Esquimalt Bahá’í Assembly).

Honouring Peace, 9 August 2022

On Tuesday, August 9, the Honouring Peace event is planned to commemorate the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear bombs in 1945 and celebrate peace. This free, family-friendly event will be held this year at a beautiful new location on the Gorge!

As the world’s immense nuclear arsenal has been made illegal but not yet disarmed 77 years later, this celebration of Japanese culture at the stunning new Gorge Park Pavilion (next to the Japanese Gardens) reminds us of the need to treasure & work for peace. Spearheaded by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Canada, the Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemoration is supported by the Victoria Nikkei Society and the Victoria Multifaith Society. The schedule for the evening:

6:00 PM Yummy Food Truck and Lantern Making for all ages

7:00 PM Welcome by Mayor Barb Desjardins and Elder Bear Sam, followed by entertainment such as the Furusato Dancers, the Uminari Taiko Drummers and the Raging Grannies among others, interspersed by short comments

8:15 PM Ceremonial planting by Mayor Desjardins of a sapling grown from a seed of a giant Gingko tree standing at the time of the blast in Hiroshima

8:35 PM Participants invited to set their decorated lanterns afloat at sunset on the reflective pools bordering the pavilion

Bring blankets, chairs and come early enough to decorate your lantern (between 6 PM and 7 PM) and order at the Yummy Food Truck . Admission is free, but donations to contribute to the cost of the event will be welcome on site. Signing up on Eventbrite will provide you with map and reminders, at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/honouring-peace-tickets-377660521787

World Partnership Walk – Celebrate Father’s Day with us!

The World Partnership Walk 2022 annual campaign to fight global poverty is now underway. You can register and contribute at either the Eventbrite or WPW link below.

  • By registering here with Eventbrite you will be eligible for a lunch coupon for Daal & Rice and a free t-shirt on walk day. On the Eventbrite page you can also contribute to this effort by ordering a dozen samosas for $25.
  • If you’d like a tax receipt, please register at www.worldpartnershipwalk.com

WPW Victoria will be holding an in-person 5K Walk & Multicultural Event on Sunday June 19th at the University of Victoria. This year, WPW Victoria is also walking in solidarity with the Victoria Ukrainian Community and supporting fundraising for Ukrainian Refugee Aid.  The event will include the Ukrainian Choir & Veselka Dance group along with Indian and Afghan entertainment – all family friendly and great for Father’s Day!

The World Partnership Walk is a campaign organized by Aga Khan Foundation Canada that the Victoria Multifaith Society is proud to endorse. Over the years, it has contributed to over 180 initiatives in more than a dozen countries that have reduced poverty and improved the quality of life for millions in Africa and Asia.

Please go the Eventbrite registration to see the full program and easy registration for the Victoria walk. Parking at UVic is free on Sundays. If you’ve already donated to the World Partnership Walk this year through their website, registration is free.

The World Partnership Walk is Canada’s largest movement in support of global development. All funds go directly to projects that alleviate global poverty and contributions are multiplied several times over by government and other organizations. 

Launching the Anti-Racism Challenge!

Images from Workshop Sessions

Fifty-five people attended the launch of our Anti-Racism Toolkit on Tuesday, 29 March. The recording of the event is at this link, with an overview of the Toolkit followed by modeling of the first workshop with the launch participants.

Workshops cover Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Black racism. They can be done singly or as a series.

VMS is challenging all who have an interest in any or all of these workshops to start their own groups! Groups can be any size or composition, online or in person — from a book club, faith group or classroom to a large company or government office. The workshops can also be adapted to any age group, from teens to seniors.

PDF copies of the Toolkit as well as an explanatory brochure are available for download from this website (under Resources) and the Centre for Civic Religious Literacy website. A Facilitator’s Guide is provided.

Please consider this challenge to start a group! It’s a great way to build community.