The weather forecast in Toronto for February 3rd called for wet snow flurries and a risky drive on the roads. But the weather patterns in the wet and cold afternoon did very little to rob the hosts and the guests of their intense enthusiasm and sincere passion in celebrating inclusion and interfaith harmony with delightful musical offerings and insightful talks. This significant event was held at the Sathya Sai Centre in York, Toronto, Canada.
The afternoon was set to motion by a young adult “master of ceremonies” (MC) Sumi Voora, offering a warm welcome to the guests and emphasised the fact that this event was a result of the collaborative efforts of the Sathya Sai International Organisation (SSIO), the St. Philips Lutheran Church and the Metropolitan United Church. Ms Voora referred to the program as a precursor to the Parliament of World Religions conference to be held in Toronto in November 2018. Following these remarks was the rhythmic rendition of our National Anthem “O Canada”.
It was next followed by an address by the President of SSIO Canada, Mrs. Preeti Mathur, who welcomed all gathered to celebrate diversity in a musical event put together in an environment of unity, love, and harmony. She emphasized that we come together so we better understand, appreciate, and respect our differences, but most importantly, unite knowing that we all share the same values, ideas, interests, hopes and dreams. We can join hands to bring, peace, love, and harmony between us, making our Canadian communities a place where all are valued and respected. She said compassion, patience, kindness, inclusion, cultural awareness, and tolerance are all forms of listening to each other and understanding each other and ways of uniting to offer a helping hand whenever and wherever it's needed. She shared that Sathya Sai Baba often says "Love all, Serve all", and she invited all to unite and celebrate the diversity immersed in sounds of music, but today, also pledge to join hands to serve the needy, the homeless, and the less fortunate in our communities. She ended the address by saying, "that is predominantly what makes us all human."
Sathya Sai Baba in numerous discourses talks of the unity of all religions despite the different names we may call God, set the tone of the impassioned talks given by Pastor Tula, Mr. Chander Khanna and Ms. Cynthia White. The common discernible thread in their talks were about the ways in which our common humanity helps us to forge our common values and how important it is to stand together to defeat all negative forces.
The keynote speaker, Cynthia White who represented the indigenous spiritual voice, emphasized also the need to work in unity to bring healing and love.
There were five interfaith, celebratory musical presentation in the afternoon. The first event was a scintillating, uplifting prayer of all faiths by the young adults of SSIO that brought all guests under the inspiring-interfaith umbrella.
The second event was presented by ‘No Fixed Address’, a group affiliated to the St. Philips Lutheran Church. The group presented four compositions. The group at the outset explained why their first composition was entitled “Jerusalem”. They felt the need to address the futility of the 3 Abrahamic faiths fighting over Jerusalem. Their next composition was an original song about how our Lord is always there to catch us when we fall, their third composition was an old spiritual that used to be sung by the African Americans in the fields of cotton. The fourth spiritual composition was sung in Spanish.
The third event was a sweet Sufi rendition of 3 ghazals. Just like the first and second event, this third event also underscored the unity, the human journey and the need for love and unity among people of all faiths.
The celebration of the afternoon hit a crescendo of beauty and harmony with the fourth event that was presented by the members of the Bahá’í faith. The event celebrated the joy of being devotees and the truth that those who seek God can never want for anything at any time.
The fifth event was a befitting conclusion to the events of the afternoon. It was presented by Vinoj, a young adult member of the SSIO. Vinoj deftly presented the Spoken Word Collaborative. The presentation was in the form of a moving volatile letter written by ‘Faith to humanity.’ Faith took on the form of a human being who was writing a letter to all of us, humanity. This beautiful personification of Faith uplifted the spirits of the audience. The words “I am love, I am loved, together we are strong” concluded the celebrations of the afternoon.
In her closing remarks, Mrs. Kala Balasubramaniam , the Public Meetings Co-ordinator for SSIO Canada, did not forget to invite the guests to join the SSIO’s Walk for Values in the month of May and reminded all guests that “We are One while we are different”. After the closing remarks, guests were requested to partake of the refreshments and the opportunity to mingle and learn about each other.
The celebrations were followed by short interviews of Mr. Chander Khanna, Imam Habeeb Ali, Mr. John Voorpostel, Ms. Cynthia White and Mr. Sudhakar Voora. They spoke about the significance of the Interfaith Harmony Week and how it was necessary to reconcile differences and stand shoulder to shoulder to combat all negative energies in society. Mr. Chander Khanna referred briefly to the history of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and how Swami Vivekananda represented India and Hinduism in the first Parliament in 1893.
Just as all, who attended the event were able to learn the far-reaching significance of the event, and how important it is for all Canadians and the world to respect the significance of a culturally diverse and religiously pluralistic Toronto being chosen as the host of the Parliament of the World’s Religions conference in the month of November 2018.
Suffice to say, the cold weather outside was forgotten as the guests and the host and this scribe sat swathed in the unity sparked by the love of faith, the warmth of our love of humanity and of our solace in God.