Photo/Jean-Calvin Kitata

The "Bearers of prayer" at the Happy Hour. From left to right: Jade O'Bomsawin, Frère André Ménard, Adèle Finlayson (Anglican Church of Québec City), Jean-Calvin Kitata (MCC), Abdoulay (Centre Islamique of Shawinigan), Nicole O'Bomsawin (Abénaki leader from Odanak), Abdulkader (Centre Islamique of Trois-Rivières). 

Unity in a divided society

The latest Federal election on October 21st revealed a country split into sections. The Liberal Party dominated in Eastern Canada while the Conservative party owned the West. In Québec, a resuscitated Bloc caught everyone by surprise. Our Belle Province split between the cosmopolitan culture of Montréal and the rest of Québec, more inclined towards a nationalistic government. More generally in North America, lines of division have deepened between the large cities, the suburban zones and rural areas.

 

Just like with politics, the religious landscape has never been more diverse than today, an obvious outcome of immigration. People—especially in Québec— hold religious groups accountable for many “sins”: intolerance, sectarian and discriminatory practices, fanaticism, aggressive proselytism, and so on. After all, history is full of these examples. Yet, more religious groups are victims of violent crimes. In 2017, Statistics Canada reported a 47% increase in hate crimes in Québec and Ontario, 80% of which targeted a religious group. One chilling and recent illustration of this was the killing at a mosque in Québec City in 2017.

 

An initiative of harmony

In this context, we ought to acknowledge and celebrate the work done by religious groups to build harmony and understanding.

MCC works in over 53 countries around the world. This makes us naturally inclined towards collaboration with local groups and communities with many perspectives. This forged MCC’s capacity to interact within a multifaith context.

For the past 3 years, an Oblat missionary Father from Trois-Rivières has taken the lead on initiating dialogue among religious groups. As a chaplain, Bernard Ménard created an event to celebrate cultural and spiritual togetherness and diversity. He offered a space where diverse religious traditions could understand each other and walk together in a spirit of equality and dignity.

Father Ménard organized a “happy hour” (5 à 7) at the Chapel of Peace of the Sanctuary Notre-Dame-du-Cap. Father Ménard invited Peace and Justice coordinator Jean-Calvin Kitata from MCC Québec, as a “beacon of non-violence and peace.” It was the third edition of this annual event, and it gathered those Father Ménard calls “bearers of prayer” (porteurs de la prière) from many religious traditions: First Nations, Hindu, Muslim, Anglican, Catholic and Evangelical (through MCC’s participation).

The event began with punch in the Chapel of Peace. In his opening word, Father Ménard reminded the audience of his motivation:

As we face new walls and so many forms of division, such gestures of solidarity based on mutual understanding give us hope for the world.    

After the welcoming word, representatives of Amnesty International and other organizations followed with a spiritual reflection hosted by the (female) Anglican Reverend of Trois-Rivières. Those who spoke included two representatives of the Muslim community of Shawinigan (a smaller city neighbouring Trois-Rivières), a Catholic priest of Trois-Rivières, the distinguished Abenaki leader Nicole O’Bomsawin, as well as Jean-Calvin Kitata of MCC Québec. Each religious tradition led a silent minute preceded by a 5-minute-long reflection, song, poem or declaration.

Around 250 people participated in this happy hour for peace. There were also tables where presenting organizations could display their literature, and Amnesty International passed around a petition. The evening ended with the assembly singing the great civil rights hymn We shall Overcome as a sign of solidarity, followed with a community meal.   

Father Ménard’s initiative would never pretend to change the world. Yet it provides a place where we can experience reconciliation and camaraderie among people who are usually considered at odds with each other. This is a precious opportunity in our increasingly divided and polarized society. While MCC concerns itself with the deeper causes of injustice and violence here and abroad, it also takes pleasure in contributing to these small gestures of peace from the midst of the community.