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Shelley Faintuch,Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, with Imam Dr. Abdul Hai Patel Director of Interfaith Relations, Canadian Council of Imams
Canadian Jewish Congress

Rabbi Richard Marker and Rabbi Adam Scheier with a Muslim delegate from Saudia Arabia
Canadian Jewish Congress

Matthew Ostrove and fellow delegates at the conference
Canadian Jewish Congress

Rabbis Scheier and Marker with conference delegates
Canadian Jewish Congress



By Matthew Ostrove with Files from the Winnipeg Jewish Review, July 6, 2010

Over one hundred faith dignitaries attended the World Religions Summit held at the University of Winnipeg from June 21- 23. The date for the event was specifically chosen to coincide with the G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto.

The summit opened with traditional aboriginal ceremonies and an abridged version of the Holocaust oratorio, I Believe, by Winnipeg composer Zane Zalis. Zalis’s work, which received a standing ovation, was introduced by Shelley Faintuch, Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.  It was narrated by Faintuch and by Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire, whose warning about an impending Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s was largely ignored by the world.

“It was a very moving experience to have the Eckardt-Grammate Hall filled with religious leaders, delegates and observers from around the world listening to I Believe, Zalis told the Winnipeg Jewish Review. “Although I Believe is about the Holocaust, the work is universal in its approach and outlook on hate and genocide.”
The Summit of Hope was originally launched in 2005 in The United Kingdom and was handed to Canada by Italian Secretary General Alberto Quattrucci.

 “We have to build a new bridge-we need a new purity,” he announced in offering Canada the opportunity to reach the world’s G8 leaders and demand a commitment to the completion of the UN ratified Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015.

These goals include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; the reduction of child mortality; the improvement of maternal health; the combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability; and the creation of a global partnership for development.

Faintuch told the Winnipeg Jewish Review she was happy with the outcome of the working session on Peace and Justice at the summit chaired by Archbishop Weisgerber. “I was hoping that it would not disintegrate into Israel bashing and in fact my fears were misplaced. The conversation was much more general and really aimed at the objective of world peace and how religious groups have a role to play in bringing about world peace,” she said.

As Senator Romeo Dallaire so eloquently said, “All humans are humans - no other human is higher than any other.” He emphasized this point by recounting an incident that occurred when he was serving in Rwanda. Coming across a child sitting in a tent by his dead parents, he looked into the child’s eyes and saw that they were the same eyes as his own young child that he had left at  home back in Canada.

In addition to Dallaire several other notable participants reiterated the need for change on behalf of the world’s less fortunate.

“The current economic and political crises in the world weighs heavily on the poor,” said the Rev. James Christie, a minister with the United Church of Canada and one of the organizers of the event.

Former Winnipegger Benjamin Shinewald, National Executive Director and General Counsel of the Canadian Jewish Congress and one of several Jewish delegates at the conference, added “this is the time to come together and remind ourselves of what the G8 stands for and of our moral obligations.”
Rabbi Adam Scheier of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, the only Canadian rabbi in attendance, also attended the summit on behalf of Canadian Jewish Congress. 

“It was an eclectic gathering with many different faiths and countries and continents and backgrounds,” he told Shalom Life, a Toronto based newspaper geared to Israelis.  “Just to be able to interact with leaders from countries as diverse as Germany, Spain, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Japan and many others was an extraordinary opportunity.”

Rabbi Richard Marker, vice-chair of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, and Rabbi Stanley Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy and community relations co-coordinating agency of the American Jewish community, were both delegates to the conference.

In the course of the conference several speakers from Africa then emphasized some of their frustrations with the G8 and with their own local governments.

“GDP growth in Zambia was 6 percent but this had no effect as the government is corrupt,” said Reverend Suzanne Member Matale. Fellow African, Reverend Dr. Andre Karamaga added, “Poverty in Africa is a moral issue and how long does it take to call a sin a sin?”  

Roberta Stack from the Prairie Women’s Health Centre spoke about  the state of maternal health, one of Harper’s primary concerns at the G8 and G20 meetings, and the lack of resources for Aboriginals that result in high infant mortality rates.  The provincial government has been aware of this issue for a long time, she said, and it should not take a world religion summit coming to Winnipeg to make it worthy of the government’s attention.

Asked what she would do if she could have a face to face meeting with  Harper, Stack answered that  she would tell him,” bring back the Kelowna Accord” that the Federal Liberals left on the table. The Kelowna Accord was designed to eradicate First Nations poverty in Canada.

The  overall eight-goal statement, developed in consensus at the summit and unanimously endorsed by the leaders, calls upon political leaders to honour their commitments as expressed in the UN’s decade-old Millennium Development Goals - keep promises of poverty reduction — especially on behalf of children, act on climate change in concrete ways, and military budgets to non-violent peace building activities.

With a final call for world leaders to “Invest in Peace” conference delegates concluded: “We are aware that there are those who use religion to justify violent acts against others, and thereby offend the true spirit of their faith and the long-standing values of their faith communities. We condemn religiously motivated terrorism and extremism and commit to stop the teaching and justification of the use of violence between and among our faith communities. Our faith traditions are steeped in the promotion of love for one another and deep respect for all humankind; peace and justice walk hand in hand. Our most inspiring teachings are stories of reconciliation and compassion. We will collaborate to create paths of peaceful and sustainable coexistence.”


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