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Peace Education

Canada Conference Recognizes the Interreligious Basis of Human Rights

Canada’s Ambassadors for Peace drew upon their nation’s principal role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and developing UN peacekeeping forces at the Canadian Leadership Conference at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa October 2-5.

The theme of the conference was “Educating for Peace.” Canada is among 30 nations in the world where peace activists are developing a Citizens Peace Corps and promoting a Ministry of Peace or Department of Peace. Dr. Bill Bhaneja, founder of Canada’s Department of Peace Initiative, and Hans Sinn, Chair of the Civilian Peace Service in Canada, gave updates on these projects at a plenary session. Questions were raised about training for such peace professionals. Ambassadors for Peace spoke of the need for peacemakers who are grounded in spiritual values and can draw on the wisdom of religious teachings in the work of reconciliation.

The Ambassadors for Peace in Canada include many immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia, and Russia who hold fast to their spiritual roots in an increasingly secular society, and dedicate themselves to causes such as education, sports, mediation, youth empowerment, and women as peacemakers. They say people on opposing sides of the civil war in their homeland—such as the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka—learn to live in harmony in Toronto and other Canadian cities, where they shop at the same grocery stores and their children attend the same schools. They are communicating these hopeful examples back to the their homeland.

Recognizing the common objection that religions, and Christianity in particular, have been used as instruments of subjugation, Dr. Thomas Walsh, UPF Secretary General, challenged participants to look beyond doctrine and rituals and recognize that we are one human family created by God and that the highest qualities of the human being are spiritual and moral.

Hon. Dr. Alvin Curling, former speaker of the Ontario Legislature, reminded participants of the “war to end all wars” in the early 20th century that led only to more wars. He said, “Canada’s Lester B. Pearson, who later became Prime Minister, proposed during the 1950s a novel notion of UN peacekeepers. That concept has endured to this day and signals Canadians as the most creative chemist of a peaceful solution.” He and other speakers challenged participants to become architects of peace and for groups to cross-fertilize in a collaborative work for peace. Conference participants joined other peace groups on October 4 to participate in Peace Prayer Day at the Ottawa City Hall.

At UPF’s leadership conferences, sometimes the most challenging issues are addressed not in a conference hall but around a meal table. To difficult questions raised by immigrants to Canada about the effects of colonization, Dr. Hyun Jin Moon replied that he too came from a nation that suffered under Japanese domination. Holding onto resentment will not enable nations to move forward, he said. “The only real solution is spiritual.”

Rev. Darryl Gray recounted how his church, the Imani Family and Full Gospel Church in Montreal, gave shelter to three families who were about to be deported. One family were Muslims from Algeria. “People called me to ask why a church would give sanctuary to a Muslim family, and I replied that two thousand years ago a man and a woman carrying a baby were given refuge in their time of need by people who didn’t make an issue of what they believed.” The families were eventually granted asylum by the Canadian government and are now citizens.

Decades ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a letter to Christian leaders from the Birmingham jail that still pricks the conscience of faith leaders. His assistant, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a Christian pastor from Washington, D.C. and former U.S. Congressman, called religious leaders to be “headlights on the road to peace, not tail lights, and thermostats, not thermometers,” merely recording the climate of the times.

Several Muslim Ambassadors for Peace spoke passionately about the Islamic view of God as full of compassion and mercy, and the calling of Muslims to spread this compassion and mercy in the world. Several people gave out books they had written to convey their insights about peace. Among them a Muslim woman, Zeinabel Ghatit, wrote books to help her two Christian daughters-in-law understand and respect the faith of her sons.

“Peacemaking is a very personal commitment,” said Dr. Bhaneja, as he accepted the Canada Peace Award at the closing banquet, “but it is always a team effort.” He quoted the words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday was the first day of the conference: “Be the change you want to see.”

Dr. Hyun Jin Moon delivered the keynote address at the Gala Awards banquet, starting with a warm tribute to Canada’s outstanding record as a peacemaking country. “Canada is the certainly the right place to talk about peace, with her long and proud history of peace and non-violence,” he said. “Canada has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations' work for peace and is also known for its warm and uncomplicated welcome for people from all over the world.”

“Nevertheless, when we consider the number of wars and conflicts that continue to plague humanity, it is clear that the world undeniably needs a new vision of peace for the 21st Century,” he continued. “And unlike the secular thinking of our recent past, it should be a spiritual vision, rooted in universal values. Dealing with only the symptoms of global crisis and conflict and ignoring the root cause will not work.”

As the conference ended, Ambassadors for Peace from Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver were discussing ways to take the vision back to their home cities.

Dr. Bill Bhaneja, Co-Chair, Canadian Department of Peace Initiative: "Proposal for a Canadian Department of Peace"
Dr. Alvin Curling, Former Speaker, Ontario Legislature, Canada: "Giving Substance to the Words of Peace"
Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, Vice-Chair, UPF: "A New Vision of Peace in Canada"
Heyam Qirbi, Mothers for Peace: "Guide Us in Our Journey of Peace, O Lord Above"
Hans Sinn, Chair, Civilian Peace Service, Canada: "Civilian Peace Service Initiatives"




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