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February 3, 2015

World Religion Day 2015
Religion as a Force for Unity and an Inspiration for Community ServiceWorld Religion Day 2015

In recent months, events across the globe and here in Ottawa, have presented us with tragically familiar acts of violence committed in the name of faith. But, once again, citizens from Ottawa’s diverse faith communities have demonstrated the power of religion to unite as they came together to celebrate World Religion Day.

Bahá'í communities and their friends from other faith communities have celebrated World Religion Day since it was instituted in 1950. For the last 15 years, the Ottawa Bahá'ís have organized and promoted a gathering of the “multifaithful” at City Hall. This year’s event in the Council Chamber, which opened with an Algonquin blessing and closed with the drums and harmonies of a Congolese Catholic choir, focussed on the theme of “Service: The Heartbeat of Community.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, along with City Councillors Shad Qadri, Michael Qaqish and Marianne Wilkinson, gave a warm welcome to all in officially proclaiming the Day. Mayor Watson noted the contrast between alarming global headlines and the quiet work done by many in Ottawa to create a better and more harmonious city. He particularly saluted the work of the Capital Region Interfaith Council, as well as the Ottawa Bahá'í community for its coordination of the January 18 event.  

Waubgeshig Rice, CBC journalist and Anishinaabe storyteller, facilitated a youth panel on service.  “It’s amazing that we’re all together like this – I’m so excited!” said Maria Fam, 23, an Egyptian Orthodox Christian who shared stories that highlighted the positive social impact of religion. Fellow University of Ottawa student Shruti Mallya spoke about her volunteer work with the homeless and her career goals in public health. Her Hindu upbringing reminded her to “see the face of the Divine” in everyone. Carleton student Amin Rashidi explained that his pre-teen studies of service and self-knowledge offered by a Bahá'í community in the middle-east later motivated him to be a “big brother” to 12-15 year olds when he moved to Ottawa. Chelby Daigle, who works in diversity and community relations areas with the Ottawa police, noted how the Islamic imperatives of compassion and charity animate her own efforts to help Ottawa’s Muslims better understand their own diverse congregations, as well as forging stronger links with the wider community.

World Religion Day 2015In addition to these enthusiastic and inspiring conversations, there was a soulfully sung prayer for unity and a choral reading of passages from five of the world’s great religions which exalted the necessity and the glory of service.

More than 100 people from a variety of faith perspective joined in the formal celebration of World Religion Day 2015 and the food and drink and conversation which followed.  In both form and content, the event emphasized the power of faith to bring people together to serve their community. To quote one of the choral readings,“It is not through lip-service” that any of us attain holiness, “but by patient lives of active service.”

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