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Free to Believe and Responsible to Act

The Canadian Interfaith Conversation along with the Manitoba Multifaith Council sponsored an online Our Whole Society (OWS) conference on May 4, 2021. This was the fifth iteration of a national forum that aims to foster a new dialogue about the changing role of religion in Canadian society. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a sponsor and participant in the event. Sandra Pallin, national communication director; Christine Baronins, Winnipeg Manitoba Co-ordinating Council communication director; and Scott Friesen, British Columbia Co-ordinating Council communication director served on the OWS conference steering committee.

Baronins reflected, “Shifting the 2021 OWS conference from an in-person to an online event presented new challenges but also new opportunities. Individuals from across Canada were more readily able to participate, enabling a true national interfaith conversation. It is the hope that this online offering will create a greater desire and enthusiasm for the 2022 in-person event.”

The event brought together civic leaders, academics, public servants, students, religious leaders, lawyers and engaged citizens, including Church members, from across Canada. They explored public discourse that draws on insights from diverse religious and secular traditions to find common ground and build a more unified society.

Dr. Geoffrey Cameron, chair of the OWS committee and national director of public affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada, said, “This year’s conference showed us, once again, the potential for religion to be a constructive and positive force in Canadian society. We heard how the ideas, values and institutions of religion have been an important part of our collective response to COVID and how religion supports processes of reconciliation, refugee settlement and building social solidarity.”

Two panel discussions included presentations on “Challenges to Freedom of Religion” and “Building Social Solidarity” with a breakout session in between to allow for discussion. Panellists included Professor Lori Beaman of the University of Ottawa, Bishop Bruce Myers of the Anglican Church of Canada, Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, President Jamileh Naso of the Canadian Yazidi Association, Director Shannon Perez of the Indigenous Family Centre and CEO Akaash Maharaj of the Mosaic Institute.

The thought-provoking messages centred on the importance of focusing on collective responsibilities rather than our collective rights. Acknowledging that challenges cannot be solved in a single lifetime helps to recognize that this work is not only interreligious but also intergenerational. The overarching message of the conference was unity in diversity, and the call to action was to think beyond oneself and about the common good.

Panellist Naso commented, “It is the relentless tenacity of civil society and the mobilization of grassroots actors that build the foundation for collective and sustainable peace.”

Wilson Akinwale, a first-time OWS participant and co-pastor of St. Thomas Anglican Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, shared, “With our diverse faith backgrounds of who we are or where we come from, I am grateful to be part of this year’s conference with an insight and responsive call to action to embrace human dignity as one people of faith.”

Payam Towfigh, president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council, added, “Participating in the OWS conference was refreshing and a great experience. Listening to very interesting individuals with diverse, secular and religious backgrounds on their views on the role of religion in our society was brilliant.”

Elder John N. Craig, North America Central Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, observed, “These events are a reminder of the good we can do collectively as we look upward and focus on what we can unite together on and what we can learn from each other as we strive to make a positive difference in a world that badly needs simple goodness.”

Contributed by Christine Baronins
Winnipeg Manitoba Co-ordinating Council Communication Director

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