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Feeling the Love at the 2018 Toronto Parliament

April 1, 2020

This blog post is part of our #PoWRofLove Campaign

For Johnny Martin and Ricardo Bustos Manzano, interfaith work is a personal passion, the cause that brought their lives together, and the setting for their engagement to one another.

Johnny and Ricardo both attended the North American Interfaith Network Connect 2018 conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Johnny attends any interfaith events he can as a self-described “interfaith junkie” and Muslim layperson from the United States. Ricardo attended NAIN Connect as a young adult scholar and Buddhist shuru from Mexico. The two felt a strong connection when they met. Upon returning to their respective home countries, they felt they couldn’t let go of the connection they had found, and continued growing their relationship long-distance until they could find a way to see each other again.

The couple’s relationship developed deeply over the next months over hours-long conversations by FaceTime. “When you meet somebody that’s not just from a different religion and a different culture, but a different nationality, who speaks a different language, the way we had to connect, everything had to always go right to the heart of the matter. The conversations were always very much about things that mattered,” said Johnny.

As a relationship that blossomed from the context of the interfaith movement, the couple says they were already primed for the possible challenges of an interfaith relationship. Ricardo reflected on their relationship, “love doesn’t worry about the differences, love doesn’t worry about prejudice, it is only concerned about the connection, the community. I feel that our relationship is about that; because we have many differences – in language, in religion, in nationalities – but this is the power of love. In the difference, we are one.”

The 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Ontario, Canada was an opportunity for the long-distance couple to reunite in-person. Before they arrived at the Parliament, they had many long conversations about the future, and already knew they wanted a future together. So when they arrived at the convention center, an interaction with a Parliament volunteer felt like a serendipitous moment.

The couple approached Parliament volunteer Karen Ostrowski for directions, but the conversation soon turned to wholehearted embrace and acceptance. “When you’re a gay couple, you’re used to even just feeling uncomfortable holding your partner’s hand or showing any outward signs of public affection. So to have this Parliament volunteer at a religious conference be overjoyed to see us express our love, it was so affirming and such a positive experience that we felt comfortable opening up to her,” shared Johnny.

Karen opened up to the couple from her own bold love for strangers and the conversation soon led to her offering to officiate a ceremony for Johnny and Ricardo at the Parliament. The couple laughed and looked at each other, blushing, overwhelmed by the acceptance and the kind offer.

Later that night at their AirBnB, Johnny and Ricardo talked about the interaction. “It felt so profound,” said Johnny, “almost divine, while we’re on this journey of love.”
“I already knew that this was a man who wanted to marry me, who I also wanted to marry. So, we were in bed having this conversation, and I literally rolled out of bed, pulled him out of bed and had him stand next to the bed so I could get down on one knee and ask, ‘will you marry me?’ He gets down on one knee next to me to say yes, which is not the move, but it was so dang cute anyway, I just rolled with it,” shared Johnny.

The next day, Johnny and Ricardo got in touch with Karen. They wanted to plan a wedding in the future with their families present, but they felt it would be a special celebration to have a ceremony at the Parliament to mark their engagement. Before they knew it, Karen had gathered an audience in the Parliament’s Rainbow Room and officiated a ceremony of celebration. “We are interfaith harmony, and we were engaged in a very spiritual moment that was at the Parliament, and we are very grateful about it,” said Ricardo. Johnny added, “it was really beautiful and I just feel like we were given such a beautiful gift.”