UPF and Faith-based Groups Host Montreal Conference
Written by UPF-Montreal
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Montreal, Canada—“Living Well Together, Without Religions? Impossible!” was the theme of a conference UPF co-organized with seven nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups concerned with improving the quality of life in Montreal. The event was held in the Laurentien Meeting Room of the Saint-Sixte Catholic Church in Montreal on November 12, 2016.
The seven co-organizers were the Bel Agir (Act Well) Center; the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence; a Catholic student center founded by Father Benoît Lacroix; Religions for Peace; the Council of Religious Leaders of Montreal North; the Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP)-Montreal; and the Collective for Unity of Iles-des-Soeurs (Nun’s Island).
The conference was moderated by Catholic educator Mrs. Danièle DeLorimier, who has years of experience educating teachers of religion and morality.
After welcoming remarks were given by UPF-Canada secretary general, Mr. Franco Famularo, the mayor of the St. Laurent borough of Montreal, Mr. Alan DeSousa, spoke. He said he was proud to be a part of the efforts of an organization based in his borough, such as UPF, which is helping to break down barriers and tensions within communities. St. Laurent is one of the most ethnically diverse communities and has the largest Arab population in Canada.
The first panel, “Living Well Together and the Role of the Media – Between Sensationalism and Information,” addressed the thorny issue of how the media impacts society’s view of faith-based organizations.
Mrs. Anne-Marie Sicotte, a well-known novelist and historian in Quebec, explained that because media enterprises require financial viability, they have a tendency toward sensationalism when they cover religious issues.
Mrs. Dalida Awada, a blogger and founder of “Words of Women,” who writes regularly on women’s rights, racism and Islamophobia for the magazine Voir, said constructive dialogue is made difficult because too often Islam is misrepresented in mainstream media.
Mr. Lamine Foura, a radio talk show host in Montreal, spoke of how there is a general perception that the media is telling the truth; however, no media outlet holds the absolute truth. Mr. Foura sees better education and the development of a critical mind to better decipher media statements as a partial solution to this.
Mr. Jean-Claude Leclerc, a well-known journalist who currently teaches about the media at the University of Montreal, drew on his long experience of writing about religion and ethics for the Montreal daily, Le Devoir. He spoke of his growing up in a primarily homogeneous and Catholic francophone town in Quebec and how, upon arriving in Montreal as a student, he discovered the city’s cultural and religious plurality was a treasure. Media has an important role to play in helping to overcome prejudices that are present in all cultures, he said.
The second panel focused on the “Contribution of Religious Pluralism Toward the Promotion of Social Peace.”
Evangelical pastor Mésène Itilus, who also serves as president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Montreal North, suggested that religion is a universal phenomenon and said faith-based groups in Canada are essential in assisting newcomers integrate into Canadian society and helping with the rehabilitation of criminals. When religious freedom is promoted, human rights are respected.
Mr. Daniel Picot of Religions for Peace read portions of a lecture that was recently given by Mr. Dominique Boisvert, co-founder of the Quebec Network for Voluntary Simplicity. He said religious groups need recognition for their contribution to society. However, faith-based organizations also need to evaluate themselves. It is important to emphasize that which unites us rather than that which divides us.
Mrs. Meriem Rebbani-Gosselin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Montreal and head researcher at the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, said the radicalization we see today shows us that we need to involve community members in dialogue. Ignorance of the religious aspect of certain institutions leads to individuals and entire groups being ignored.
The third panel explored the “Management of Pluralism in the Political Realm.”
Mrs. Isabelle Laurin, an active member of UPF and one of the founding members and current secretary of the Council of Religious Leaders of Montreal North, said that although many efforts have been made to organize projects that bring various communities together, faith-based groups increasingly have the sentiment that their role is being ignored by municipal authorities and that recent by-laws concerning worship centers are a result of this lack of understanding. Efforts by municipalities to consider the views of faith-based organizations have slowly increased. There is still much to do.
Mrs. Solange Lefebvre, who heads of the Religion and Cultural Diversity Department at the University of Montreal and has advised the Canadian and foreign governments, shared that indirect support by cities and towns in the form of property tax exemption is seen as problematic. Some jurisdictions are better equipped to be generous than others and thus better mutual understanding is necessary.
Former Superior Court judge, Mrs. Anne-Marie Trahan, explained that secularism in Canada means that one should not show preference to one religion over another. The Canadian model has been effective since most ethnic and cultural communities have successfully integrated in their respective communities. In some countries where one religion is favored over another, efforts to integrate new arrivals have been more complicated.
The fourth and final panel, “Collective for Unity,” highlighted how representatives of new and ancient traditions are collaborating on the municipal level. In the Ile-des-Soeurs zone of Verdun, a borough of Montreal, Jews, Christians and Muslims joined forces to assist recent refugee families from Syria. Mr. Mourad Bendjennet, an architect by profession and a volunteer, explained that the faith-based groups realized that such joint efforts can be effective in preventing radicalization. Mrs. Sélima Driss, a businesswoman and also part of the collective, and a volunteer in the Tunisian community, explained that the importance of a humanitarian project is that it unites rather than divides communities. Theological discussions are not front and center for the volunteers. Delegations from Europe have visited the project to find new ideas on how to alleviate tensions in their own communities.
The conference also included Q&A sessions after each panel and the more than 50 participants engaged in dialogue throughout the day.
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