On Saturday evening, August 31 a rabbi, a Catholic priest and an imam walked into Beth Shalom Synagogue in Edmonton. With them were an Aboriginal elder, a Jain, and 65 guests there to hear about “Repentance and Forgiveness from Religious Perspectives”. On that evening Jews around the world began their preparations for New Year (Rosh Hashana) which begins Wednesday evening, September 4, and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), with penitential prayers known as Selichot. The new rabbi at Beth Shalom, Kliel Rose, working with the Edmonton Interfaith Centre and Elexis Schloss, invited representatives from four other faith traditions to discuss this important issue.

The service began with the late afternoon Sabbath prayers, followed by the speakers. First was Dr. Usama Al Atar, a professor of chemistry from the University of Alberta. He stressed five stages of repentance celebrated during the month of Ramadan: regret for your misdeeds, personal commitment to reform, repair of the damage done, reaching out to other people affected by your action, restoring your relationship to God to regain a life of restored peace and justice. He reminded us that the Prophet Mohammad, when he conquered Mecca, forgave the citizens for their bitter warfare against the followers of the new faith of Islam.

Elder Betty Lafferty is an Aboriginal consultant with Edmonton Catholic Schools. She said that the Cree language doesn’t have a word for “forgiveness” but practices personal fasting to restore inner peace and renewed relationship with everyone. As a child she was afraid of the Christian God, but her aboriginal faith restored her inner spirituality and communion with God and with all those around her. For her, working with children is a spiritual experience.

Jitendra Shah, one of the founders of the first Jain temple in Edmonton, reminded us that Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Their leaders, or Gurus, have long led the movement for non-violence, brought to a climax by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent fight for independence from Britain. He told the story of the blind men describing an elephant by feeling different parts of the body, and of course coming to widely different conclusions. Differences are essential to life, but they can also reveal common themes or issues that bind us together. He urged time for daily meditation that restores our inner selves and brings us to the peace of nirvana.

The fourth speaker was Father James Holland from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Edmonton which has a large congregation of Aboriginal people. He emphasized that although there are many religions, they all share an inner spirituality. He believes that holding grudges is self destructive, and that forgiveness frees oneself to live fully. He felt he had learned a great deal from his association with his Aboriginal congregants.

The last speaker was Rabbi Rose. He sees elements of the Judaism in all religions that experience one God within us. For him, sinning is missing the mark of a good life, and forgiveness is essential to restoring it. A Jewish member of the audience remarked on three essentials for forgiveness: recognition of what you did that was wrong, true repentance for it, and forthright reparation to all who were affected by it.

The differing practices of all speakers actually highlighted the common recognition of the essential need to forgive in order to restore your own life, and that holding grudges of any kind was self-destructive. It seems that for many of us it is very difficult to forget anyone or anything that hurts us, but how often we forget the many good things that we daily experience from those around us.

The evening ended with Rabbi Rose celebrating Havdalah, the service which formally ends the Sabbath, and immediately after he recited the Selichot.

John G. Wright & Netta Phillet

Article published in Edmonton Journal


Offerings: Edmonton interfaith group condemns violence done in the name of religion

By Edmonton Interfaith Centre May 10, 2013
Offerings: Edmonton interfaith group condemns violence done in the name of religion

A Buddhist monk meditates during a moment of silence near the finish line of the Boston Marathon bombings on the one-week anniversary of the bombings on April 22.

Photograph by: Kevork Djansezian , Getty Images, files

EDMONTON – Violence in the name of religion — where does it come from? Not from the teachings of the religions themselves.

In the wake of the tragic events in Boston, the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action wants to affirm the inherent value of all human beings, and to condemn the perpetration of violence in the name of religion. As directors and staff of the centre, we state emphatically that no religion promotes violence of any kind. The terrorist acts and threats of the past weeks are not condoned by any religions.

Those who indulge in terrorism are acting according to their own misguided personal ideologies and misinterpretations, and for their own agendas.

Edmonton Interfaith Centre membership includes more than a dozen different faith traditions, and many denominations within those faiths, including Baha’is, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Unitarians, Buddhists, Swedenborgians and followers of Eckankar.

The centre, established in 1995, is dedicated to building understanding and respect for the diverse religious traditions that make up the fabric of life in Edmonton.

Religious or cultural profiling is not helpful. No one would think of blaming the designers and manufacturers of a particular type of car when the actions of a distracted or drunk driver of that vehicle caused the deaths of innocent people.

Nor should any religious tradition be judged because of those who misuse religion as an excuse to act in violence.

Religions teach us that violence is not the answer — to anything. We share words like salaam, shalom, shanti, pax — all of which mean peace. This unites us all as diverse parts of a single humanity, each of us created in the image, or containing an aspect of the divine.

Traditions like the Golden Rule — “Love your neighbour as yourself” — express our reciprocal responsibility for each other, as taught in all of our traditions. It is a perversion of our traditions and all that they contain when they are used as excuses for violence.

Reflecting on the Boston tragedy, and the threats indicated by the arrests of suspected terrorists in Toronto and Montreal, what can we, as a diverse and caring community, do?

How can we overcome stereotypes and suspicion? How can we counteract the fear that is raised by these events and accentuated in media coverage?

We suggest the following:

1. Learn more: explore your own faith tradition more thoroughly to see what is (and is not) an authentic expression of that spiritual path.

2. Get to know our neighbours, participate with them in the projects (such as the Interfaith Habitat for Humanity Build) that celebrate the human spirit and our compassion and caring for others.

3. Work with our young people to ensure that their natural spiritual hunger is met with authentic and meaningful moral purpose and sense of values.

4. Pray: In community and at a personal level. Pray for wholeness and peace, for the victims of intentional violence wherever it occurs, and for the courage to live as our best selves in whichever tradition we are found.

Meanwhile, those of us at the Interfaith Centre will continue to plan future events to build interfaith understandings, to explore topics such as the radicalization of alienated youth and responses to terrorism, and to acknowledge the rich diversity of faith, caring and compassion that is to be found in Edmonton and area.

As an organization, we remain committed to understanding and celebrating our unique faith perspectives, and to share our best practices with communities around the world. We will continue to plant seeds of hope and positive pro-activity through education and events of a multi-faith nature.

For more information, go to or call 780-413-6159.


Interfaith Centre board and staff: Jagjeet Bhardwaj, Rev. Audrey Brooks, Avau Fast, Rev. David Fekete, Karen Gall, Len Gierach, Dr. Julien Hammond, Rev. Dr. Rob Hankinson, Rabbi Carmit Harari, Shervin Hemmati, Pat Holt, Dr. David Hubert, Dr. Zohra Husaini, Shiraz Kanji, Nasim Kherani, Rabbi David Kunin, Rev. Dr. Don Mayne, Jas Panesar, Netta Phillet, Kathie Reith, Guruma Bodhi Sakyadhita and Rev. Rick Van Manen